The world’s first computer art
During a time when computing power was so scarce that it required a government defence budget to finance it, a young man used a $238 million military computer, the largest such machine ever built, to render an image of a curvy woman on a glowing cathode ray tube screen. The year was 1956, and the creation was a landmark moment in computer graphics and cultural history that has gone unnoticed until now.
Using equipment designed to guard against the apocalypse, a pin-up girl had been drawn.
She was quite probably the first human likeness to ever appear on a computer screen.
In early 1959, 21-year-old Airman First Class Lawrence A. Tipton snapped the only known photo of this first example of computer art at Ft. Lee. The photo shows the tube of an SD console displaying the outline of woman with her arms held high, cradling her head while emphasizing her bosom. She reclines awkwardly, her legs splayed apart in an uncomfortable but provocative pose characteristic of mid-century pin-up art.
The image was based on an illustration by pin-up artist George Petty drawn for the Esquire 1956 Girl Calendar. Viewing this ancient digital artwork today, one naturally wonders who created it.
“I remember at the time that everybody knew it was done by an IBM programmer,” recalls Tipton. Robert Martina, a veteran of early SAGE installations in the 1950s, agrees with Tipton. “IBM guys were supposed to be so straight. They weren’t,” he adds with a laugh. But no one seems to recall who exactly at IBM created it.
The Atlantic has more on this fascinating story.