Did Bell Labs approach MIT or was it the other way around? Did participating in Project MAC come from researchers requesting management at Bell Labs/MIT or did management make the decision due to dealing with other managers in each of the two organizations? Did it grow out of an informal arrangement into a formal one?

Some background:

In 1962 Robert M. Fano at MIT wrote the Project MAC proposal to J.C.R. Licklider at ARPA. The proposal was accepted and that was the start of Project MAC. Corby said it officially started January 1, 1963.

In 1964, before joining the Computer System Research department at Bell Labs, Denis Ritchie was a graduate student at Harvard. That year, he worked part-time at MIT on Project MAC then. Also in November of 1964 members of the Computer System Research department at Bell Labs were working on Project. DMR joined BTL in 1967.

Edward E. David, Jr., a manager at Bell Labs, was considered by Corbato to be the leader of the pro-Multics faction there. David co-authored Some Thoughts About the Social Implications Of Accessible Computing with Fano in 1964 (published in 1965). This suggest he was involved early on with Bell Labs working on Project MAC.

Sam Morgan said in an interview that Alexander ("Sandy") G. Fraser was the principal person who promoted Multics and who advertised it.

Peter G. Neumann wrote that the first real get-together of the Multics team (MIT, Bell Labs, and GE-[later]-Honeywell) took place at an AT&T training center in Hopewell, NJ, the week of Memorial Day 1965.


  • Variety of material in MIT archives. I’m not near them do… archivesspace.mit.edu/agents/corporate_entities/912
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 23 at 21:29
  • 1
    Couldn't find anything in the few old Project MAC TRs I have. Kernighan, in his book UNIX: A History And A Memoir (2020) says only "Multics was going to be a big job, since it involved new software, and new hardware with more capabilities than the IBM 7094, so MIT enlisted two other organizations to help. ... Bell Labs, which had a great deal of experience from creating its own systems since the early 1950s, was to collaborate on the operating system." (emphasis is mine.) 1/2
    – davidbak
    Jan 24 at 0:13
  • 3
    Several things: (1) the technical communities were smaller and more close knit with everyone knowing everyone else. (2) companies would not think twice about helping on government funded projects. (3) Both MIT and Bell Labs had long histories (since WWII) of such cooperation with the US government.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 24 at 15:42
  • 1
    Also, looking at Licklider's Wikipedia entry, while he was at MIT in the 1950's he was involved with establishing the MIT Lincoln Laboratory (government contract lab), as well as the SAGE project (involving Western Electric, AT&T's manufacturing arm). In 1957 he left to go to BBN (developing time sharing), and then in 1962 went to ARPA, then in 1964 back to MIT. He clearly had excellent connections across all the major players and probably just asked folks to get involved. Just for fun, he also helped found Infocom. Pretty seminal career, for sure.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 25 at 22:19
  • 1
    Philip ("Phil") McCord Morse worked at Bell Labs June-Sept. 1929. In 1956 Phil Morse started the Computation Center at MIT and became its director until 1967. Jan 31 at 23:57

1 Answer 1


Corbato said that Edward E. David of Bell Labs approached Robert Fano of MIT requesting that Bell Labs join Project MAC.

Multics Reunion: Early Days, Project MAC, CTSS, and Multics, CSAIL video, May 29, 2014, (49:37 video). His statement is at 25:12.

  • awesome find! good video too
    – davidbak
    Feb 1 at 3:52
  • Thanks. Somewhere in my research I ran across something that claims Ed David became ostracized after Bell Labs pulled out of Project MAC and he resigned. Feb 1 at 13:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .