Asian Pacific Heritage Month – Honoring An Wang
As part of Asian Pacific Heritage Month, we’re spotlighting Asian-American and Pacific-American inventors who made impacts in their respective career fields.
Dr. An Wang was born in Shanghai, China, on February 7, 1920. His father was an English teacher at an elementary school outside Shanghai, while his mother was a homemaker. Dr. Wang graduated from Shanghai Jiao Tong University with a degree in electrical engineering in 1940, and immigrated to the United States at the end of World War II. He attended Harvard University, earning a PhD in applied physics in 1948. Notably, it took him only one year to earn his doctorate.
The 1940’s saw the construction of the first digital computing systems, and Dr. Wang was an active participant in the design of the Mark IV, a fully electronic computer. Part of his work for the Mark IV was to solve the problem of how to store data magnetically and at high speeds. Dr. Wang proceed to co-invent what we know today as dynamic memory storage, using a pulse transfer controlling device to read and subsequently write to “core” memory.
Dr. Wang established Wang Laboratories in 1951, which by 1989 grew to employ over 30,000 people. Some notable products included the Wang 2200, one of the first desktop computers, and the Wang VS system, a multiuser minicomputer similar to IBM’s System/370. The Wang VS system was very flexible for its time, working both as a minicomputer as well as a dedicated word processing system. In 1984, Forbes listed Dr. Wang as the fifth richest American with a net worth of over $1.6 billion.
Dr. Wang was also a philanthropist, establishing the Wang Institute of Graduate Studies. The Wang institute bought a 200-acre campus in Tyngsborough, Massachusetts, and began operations as an independent educational institution in 1979. The Wang Institute’s campus was later incorporated into Boston University. In 1983, Dr. Wang donated funds to establish the Wang Center for the Performing Arts, a theater in the heart of Boston. The Wang Theater is now a designated Boston Landmark. After a fruitful life as an inventor and entrepreneur, Dr. Wang died of cancer in 1990.