ERA and the Twin Cities Computer Industry

What do the some of the giants of the computer and medical technology industries, like Control Data, Sperry Rand, Cray Research, Medtronic, UNISYS have in common? These companies, worth millions, all came from a small company that began in a nondescript building in the Midway area of Saint Paul, Engineering Research Associates (ERA).

ERA established the Twin Cities as one of the creative centers of the United States’ developing computer and med-tech industries. ERA employees caused an explosion of innovation and entrepreneurism, establishing the Twin Cities as one of the cradles of the computer industry and creating thousands of jobs in more than 100 spinoff technology companies.

In 1946, US Naval Academy graduate student, John Parker, raised $220,000 to establish ERA. He moved key employees, including a group of United States Navy codebreakers, from D.C. to his empty factory at 1902 Minnehaha Avenue in Saint Paul. In 1957, ERA employee William Norris founded Control Data Corporation. Control Data soon became one of the world’s leading computer manufacturers, spawning dozens of spinoff companies, such as Cray Research, Ceridian, SkyWater Technology, Polar Semiconductor, and Seagate Technology Holdings. Over the years, ERA merged with other companies, evolving into Remington Rand UNIVAC (RRU), then Sperry Rand, and eventually Unisys. ERA and its successors directly influenced the evolving medical device industry, med-tech giants such as Medtronic, St. Jude Medical, and Cardiac Pacemakers.

RCHS received a small Arts and Cultural Heritage grant to conduct an oral history project. The selected oral historian will conduct up to ten interviews to document those involved in the earliest days of ERA and its successors.

This project has been financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.

For more on Engineering Research Associates (ERA) and the company’s influence on the Twin Cities and the computer and medical device industries, see the Exhibition page here.