A survey performed by the Army Ballistics Research Laboratory in 1957, 1959, and 1961 lists every electronic stored-program computer in use in the country (the very possibility of compiling such a list says a great deal about the community of computing at the time). The surveys reveal the large proportion of machines in use for government purposes, either by federal contractors or in government facilities (Weik, 1955, pp. 57-61; Flamm, 1988).
Before 1960, government—as a funder and as a customer—dominated electronic computing. Federal support had no broad, coherent approach, however, arising somewhat ad hoc in individual federal agencies. The period was one of experimentation, both with the technology itself and with diverse mechanisms for federal support. From the panoply of solutions, distinct successes and failures can be discerned, from both scientific and economic points of view. After 1960, computing was more prominantly recognized as an issue for federal policy. The National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences issued surveys and reports on the field.
If government was the main driver for computing research and development (R&D) during this period, the main driver for government was the defense needs of the Cold War. Events such as the explosion of a Soviet atomic bomb in 1949 and the Korean War in the 1950s heightened international tensions and called for critical defense applications, especially command-and-control and weapons design. It is worth noting, however, that such forces did not exert a strong influence on telecommunications, an area in which most R&D was performed within AT&T for civilian purposes. Long-distance transmission remained analog, although digital systems were in development at AT&T's Bell Laboratories. Still, the newly emergent field of semiconductors was largely supported by defense in its early years. During the 1950s, the Department of Defense (DOD) supported about 25 percent of transistor research at Bell Laboratories (Flamm, 1988, p. 16; Misa, 1985).
However much the Cold War generated computer funding, during the 1950s dollars and scale remained relatively small compared to other fields, such as aerospace applications, missile programs, and the Navy's Polaris program (although many of these programs had significant computing components, especially for operations research and advanced management techniques). By 1950, government investment in computing amounted to $15 million to $20 million per year.
All of the major computer companies during the 1950s had significant components of their R&D supported by government contracts of some