Seymour Cray, Super Computist

b 1925, d 1996 Colorado Springs

picture of Cray

Seymour Cray died of injuries received in a Sept 22, 1996 car crash in Colorado Springs. One car had made a sudden lane change, forcing another car into Cray's. His Jeep Cherokee went off the road and rolled three times. He suffered serious, and ultimately fatal, head injuries. He survived for two weeks in the hospital but never recovered consciousness. He had been putting together a new company, SRC Computer, after the failure of Cray Computer and the Cray-4.

What a loss! Cray was one of the best of our field, and a giant of post-war electrical engineering as a whole. He started in the early transistor era in the 50s, designed the first big vector machines, the CDC 6600 and 7600, while at Control Data, then spun off Cray Research to do the Cray-1 and Cray-2. His machines were the fastest computers in the world from the mid-60s to the mid-80s, when Steve Chen's Cray-XMP superseded his own design. In these days when a hundred thousand people are involved in computer engineering, no other person is ever likely to dominate the field that way again.

A few bits of Cray lore:

So his machines were not easy to use or program by today's standards. They were thoroughbreds, meant to solve problems of literally national survival, like bomb design, aerodynamics, and cryptography. When the Cold War ended, his last, brilliant works, the Cray-3 and Cray-4, no longer had a market. Sorry as we may be to see them fail, we can't miss the conditions that made them needed.

A few links to him:

A Tribute to Seymour Cray by a colleague, Charles Breckenridge, at his last company, SRC Computers.

Cray Interview by the National Museum of American History

A Seymour Cray Perspective by Gordon Bell