What Computer Graphics Looked Like in the Late 1950s

In the 1950s, the Air Force's billion-dollar computer system got borrowed for a pin-up drawing.

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Lawrence A. Tipton

My friend Benj Edwards knows more about odd little bits and pieces of computing history than just about anybody. Over at the Atlantic, he’s come up with a doozy: The story of a 1950s drawing rendered on the Air Force’s super-ambitious air-defense computer system. It may have been the first art ever created with a computer.

The drawing in question was based on a 1956 calendar painting by Esquire‘s George Petty, America’s favorite pin-up artist. Among the remarkable things about Benj’s piece is that he not only identified that the Air Force’s art was based on a Petty Girl, but figured out which Petty Girl it was.

The Air Force’s computer was known as SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Equipment). It was amazing for its time, and Benj provides a thorough look at it, too.

Bonus attraction for tech-history nerds: The vintage photo of the digital Petty Girl which Benj uncovered (and let me borrow for this post), taken by a 21-year-old Airman First Class in 1959, is…a Polaroid.

The Never-Before-Told Story of the World’s First Computer Art (It’s a Sexy Dame) [The Atlantic]