Remembering Jacob Goldman

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Jacob Goldman, the creator of Xerox PARC, has died. He was 90. Robert Siegel and Lynn Neary have more.


This week, we mark the passing of Jack Goldman, the creator of one of the great high-tech idea factories, one that Apple and other companies borrowed from, Xerox PARC. PARC in this case was an acronym. The Palo Alto Research Center is often remembered these days as the scene of missed opportunities, the cradle of other companies' babies. It gave birth to a graphical user interface, icons and cursors, the mouse, the Ethernet, the laptop, things that Xerox didn't use but other companies did.


Xerox hired Jack Goldman, a physicist, away from Ford Motor Company to be its chief scientist. He quickly decided that what Xerox needed was a lab devoted to basic research. A place where lab nerds could pursue innovations and notions, where they could do pure science insulated from whether it would result in products or profits. Goldman created that space.

Physicist Ted McIrvine, who worked with Goldman both at Ford and Xerox, says Jack Goldman recognized there was a fundamental difference between research and development.

DR. TED MCIRVINE: There's always a tension between a research laboratory and a development organization in any company, because there's nothing that somebody who is halfway through engineering a product would like to hear less than somebody coming in the door and saying, I've got a totally new technology which will totally change the product that you have half-designed.


SIEGEL: Goldman is credited with bringing in brilliant scientists and making sure that they had resources to explore big ideas. The lab did have some moneymaking results. But Goldman knew there were missed opportunities - the laptop, networked computing.

In an interview six years ago, he said Xerox had it all in the palm of their hands and it was frustrating sometimes to researchers when the company let it go.

DR. JACOB GOLDMAN: They were so disappointed when Xerox was not prepared to bring it out right away in the mid-'70s.

NEARY: Goldman did take satisfaction in the fact that Xerox PARC inventions eventually got out into the marketplace. Ted McIrvine says it was one of the most important lessons he learned from Goldman.

MCIRVINE: There's no limit to what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit.

NEARY: Jacob "Jack" Goldman was 90 years old.


SIEGEL: This is NPR News.

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