From the time he was a boy, Kenneth Olsen’s passion was electronics. He and his brother, Stan, spent hours in the basement of their Stratford, Conn., fixing broken radios and dreaming of gadgets that would change the world.
After a stint in the U.S. Navy and with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from MIT in hand, Olsen would co-found Digital Equipment Corp. in 1957. DEC grew to become the second-largest computer company in the United States. Under Olsen’s leadership, DEC created one of the earliest mini-computers, which cut the costs of the larger, mainframe computers sold by computing giant IBM and opened a new market.
Olsen fostered a corporate culture that embraced big thinking and new ideas. Though wildly successful – Forbes magazine in 1986 called him “America’s most successful entrepreneur – Olsen was most comfortable in his simple office and “preferred flannel shirts to business suits,’’ The New York Times wrote in his 2011 obituary.
Olsen was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 1990 and in retirement helped found the Ken Olsen Science Center at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., where his papers and Digital’s history are housed.
By Robert Warren