The PC and The Lion’s Historian

If you are thinking that this post is going to talk about Dr. Mark Dean you are spot on, if you’re thinking it’s about how he hasn’t been recognized for inventing the PC, you might be surprised. If some or all of the title of this post doesn’t ring a bell for you, here’s a quick summary. There’s an African proverb that says

 “Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter”

Dr. Mark Dean is a very accomplished computer hardware engineer who was a key member of a small team of engineers who designed the original IBM PC. For over a decade, articles on the web and emails have been circulating with all kinds of stories and claims about him inventing the PC but being ignored by historians because of his race. Dean is the lion and people of African descent should tell his story. At first glance, this seems very positive and reasonable. I assume that most or all of the people writing these things had the best of intentions.  However, there are two inconvenient truths lurking here:

  1. The project Dean worked on was not the first PC(even at IBM)
  2. Dean’s significant accomplishments have been widely recognized outside of the African community

I don’t believe Mark Dean is on record ever having made such claims. What he says is:

 I’m proud that I was one of a dozen IBM engineers who designed the first machine and was fortunate to have lead subsequent IBM PC designs through the 1980s.  

IBM Blog


You can hear him go into more detail in a video on IBM’s History Site which also notes that the IBM PC

 wasn’t the first personal computer. Nor was it the most advanced. But shortly after the IBM ® Personal Computer arrived in 1981, it became the leading platform in the revolution that brought computing out of the glass house and into daily life.

Mark’s bio page at the University of Tennessee doesn’t claim he invented the PC either.  

It should be noted that both Xerox and IBM produced personal computers in 1973 with the Xerox Alto being far more advanced. It had a mouse and graphic user interface that was in some respects more advanced than the Macintosh 10 years later. The PC project Mark Dean worked on was a response to the incredible growth of the market that started happening in 1977.

Every time we use a PC, we can be mindful  and proud of Dr. Dean’s incredible accomplishments just as they are.