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Frank Heart

Frank Heart

Frank Heart had an exceptional career working with computers and computer communications. It began in 1950, when as a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he was assigned to work on the famous Whirlwind computer project. When that project was transferred to MIT Lincoln Laboratory in 1953, Heart transferred with it. He would then spent the next 15 years working on the seminal SAGE air defense system and many other projects connecting computers to real-time data collection systems. In addition to the unique and invaluable experience and knowledge he gained during his years at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, he worked with a group of noteworthy scientists and engineers, including Wes Clark, Larry Roberts, Ivan Sutherland, Will Crowther, Severo Ornstein and Dave Walden.

In the summer of 1966, Heart attended an Academy of Sciences sponsored workshop at Woods Hole, MA. Over the summer, he became good friends with Danny Barbaro who worked at BBN. Barbaro would tell Heart about a large ‘hospital project’ BBN had with the Massachusetts General Hospital. It reminded Heart of his desire to work in life sciences, an opportunity he did not have at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. So when Barbaro returned to BBN, and learned the project manager had left, and that BBN had no senior person to take over the project, he convinced management to recruit Heart. It was a difficult decision for Heart, but in the end he agreed, joining BBN in December 1966. Indicative of his leadership style and skill, Will Crowther, Dave Walden and Severo Ornstein all chose on their own to follow him from Lincoln Laboratory to BBN. Ironically, when he arrived at BBN, he was given the responsibility of shutting down the project he had hoped to manage.

Heart needed not to worry, as fortune would soon shine on him. In March 1967, when Taylor and Roberts were asking others who might be best to manage the Arpanet project, Wesley Clark told them “there isn’t anybody else; if you want this job done, you go to Frank Heart”. Beginning in early 1968, before the RFP had been issued, Heart worked on monitoring the forthcoming Arpanet project for BBN. When the RFP was finally issued, in August of 1968, BBN assigned Heart the responsibility of assembling a team and preparing their response. BBN eventually won the contract and Heart managed the project, delivering it on time and under budget. Heart continued to supervise the operation and maintenance of the Arpanet project throughout his time at BBN.

Keywords: MIT, Whirlwind, Lincoln Laboratory, SAGE, Bolt Beranek & Newman (BBN)

Frank Heart Interviewed by James Pelkey 7/11/88