William Goddard (engineer)

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William A. Goddard
Born (1913-07-10)July 10, 1913
Died September 29, 1997(1997-09-29) (aged 84)
Nationality United States
Alma mater Occidental College
Awards National Inventors Hall Of Fame in 2007
Scientific career
Fields Physics

William A. Goddard (July 10, 1913 in St. Joseph, Missouri – September 29, 1997 in Chico, California) was an engineer for IBM and an American inventor. He earned a degree in physics from Occidental College. Before working in industry, Goddard was a high school science teacher in Los Angeles. He briefly worked in the aerospace industry[1] for North American Aviation, Inc. before becoming an engineer at International Business Machines (IBM). His most acclaimed achievement is co-inventing along with John Lynott United States Patent 3,503,060, which is entitled “Direct Access Magnetic Disc Storage Device”. This invention is the claims modern-day hard disk drives.


Goddard worked on wind tunnel work for North American Aviation. He was to work on similar wind tunnel innovations for a Los Angeles airplane manufacturer at IBM, but shortly after he was hired, the contract for that project was dropped. Goddard was instead hired as an engineer, and became involved in the magnetic storage disk project when the United States Air Force called upon IBM in order to be “mechanized”. The base required a mechanism to “store data” virtually for its operations, and from this necessity, the disk storage project was conceived.

RAMAC Project at IBM

William Goddard and John Lynott were key members of the San Jose, California–based engineering team, led by Reynold Johnson with the help of Louis Stevens, that developed the 350 Disk Storage Unit, a major component of the IBM 305 RAMAC Computer.[1] The magnetic disk drive symbolized a monumental advance in mass-storage technology. It is responsible for the end of sequential storage and batch processing with punched cards and paper tape.

The CPU unit, also known as the 305 Processing unit, was responsible for the write-in and read-out operations of the IBM 350. “Instructions” were provided to the unit coded as “memory addresses”. These addresses referred to specific locations on the disc in which a transducer was either commanded to write-in or read-out data.

Goddard’s research began in the early 1950s at IBM’s Laboratory located on 99 Notre Dame Avenue in San Jose, CA.

He did not see his work as particularly complex. As he puts it, “it was not high tech, or very scientific. It was more like something you’d do in your garage.”

The IBM 350 Disk Storage Unit consisted of the magnetic disk memory unit with an access mechanism, the controls for the access mechanism, and a small air compressor. Assembled with covers, the 350 apparatus was 60 inches (1.52 m) long, 68 inches (1.73 m) high and 29 inches (0.74 m) deep. It was configured with 50 magnetic disks containing 50,000 sectors, each of which held 100 six-bit alphanumeric characters, for a capacity of 5 million six-bit characters.

Disks rotated at 1,200 rpm, tracks were recorded at up to 100 bits per inch, and typical head-to-disk spacing was 800 microinches (20 µm). The execution of a "seek" instruction positioned a read-write head to the track that contained the desired sector and selected the sector for a later read or write operation. Seek time averaged about 600 milliseconds.

Specifications of the original IBM 350

• Capacity: 5 million characters • Disks: 50 • Access time: 800 ms • Tracks per side: 100 • Area density: 2000 bit/in2 • Rotational speed: 1200 rpm

Air-bearing head

The magnetic disk drive consisted of a stack of closely spaced, magnetically coated disks mounted on a rotating shaft, with read-write heads that did not physically touch the storage surface. Goddard’s and Lynott's key innovation was the air-bearing head, which “floated” very close to the rotating disks without actually touching them, greatly increasing the speed of access.

This air-bearing head, also known as a magnetic transducer, had the ability to move freely, which enabled the disk to be recorded and read from a vast number of different positions.

The primary purpose of the air-bearing head was to allow the device to have rapid random access ability to any storage location. Additionally, the creation also allowed several magnetic discs to be mounted on a shaft in which a transducer could interact with more than one magnetic disk.


An invention disclosure, filed on December 14, 1954 by Lou Stevens, Ray Bowdle, Jim Davis, Dave Kean, Bill Goddard and John Lynott resulted in two US Patents, 3,134,997, "Data Storage Machine" to Stevens, Goddard and Lynott, claiming the RAMAC and subsequently 3,503,060, "Direct Access Magnetic Storage Disk Device" to Goddard and Lynott, claiming floating heads and disk drives in general. These patents make an analogy to how his invention acts hypothetically: “the operation may be compared with the manner in which skilled operators select cards from a card file index.”

Evolution of the IBM 350

Hard disk drives to this date follow the 350 Disk Storage Unit. They are used as the main components for storage on today’s personal computers. Similar to floppy disks, the data on hard drives are read and written via a spindle. Hard disk drives have many times more storage space than the IBM 350 due to considerable innovations in storage space densities on disks. Kryder's Law, similar to Moore's Law, indicates that storage space doubles on an annual basis.

Magnetic Disk Heritage Center

The Magnetic Disk Heritage Center has played an active role in preserving RAMAC 350 units created by Johnson and his team at IBM. Originally located at Santa Clara University, the project was managed by Dr. Al Hoagland and a group of seniors at the university. Operations have since moved to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. Goddard’s daughter, Bonnie Burham, is one of the organization’s major private donors.[citation needed]

National Inventors Hall of Fame

William Goddard was inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame with John Lynott in 2007 for their contribution to the invention of the first magnetic disk drive. It is hailed as one of the most significant inventions in the computer industry and it has since emerged to become an industry of its own with an annual revenue of $22 billion worldwide.



  1. ^ a b IBM Pioneers to be Inducted Into the National Inventors Hall of Fame

External links

  • Chicoan Recalls Early Days of Computers Seattle Post-Intelligencer
  • Hitachi Absorbs IBM Hard-Disk Unit, Announces New Drives Computerworld
  • Hard disk drives Wikipedia
  • Project RAMAC Update Magnetic Disk Heritage Center
  • 350 Storage Unit IBM Storage Product Profiles
  • The IBM 350 RAMAC Disk File IBM
  • Life Without Hard Disk Drives PC Guide
  • Brief Historical Summary, IBM 350 RAMAC Disk Drive Magnetic Disk Heritage Center
  • William Goddard National Inventors Hall of Fame
  • The Random-Access Memory Accounting Machine IBM Journal
  • San Jose City Council Names IBM Site Historical Landmark Magnetic Disk Heritage Center
  • IBM Pioneers to be Inducted Into the National Inventors Hall of Fame IBM Press Room
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