Gordon College Loans Collection of DEC Founder Ken Olsen’s Personal Papers to Harvard Business School’s Baker Library

Digital Equipment Corporation annual report, 1968-1969 (Photo: Kenneth H. Olsen Collection, Baker Library, Harvard Business School)

Harvard Business School (HBS) and Gordon College today jointly announced a permanent loan of the Kenneth H. Olsen Collection, which is comprised of the personal papers of Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), from Gordon to Baker Library, one of the world’s largest business libraries.

The Olsen Collection contains materials dating from the 1940s until Olsen’s death in 2011. The bulk of the material dates from the late 1950s to early 1990s, coinciding with Olsen’s 35 years as president of DEC. The records provide a broad overview of the company’s history and Olsen’s role as co-founder and president from 1957 to 1992. Correspondence files document Olsen’s internal communications with DEC and with outside business and government figures, dating from 1976 to 1992.

Olsen was a longtime trustee of Gordon College, serving for many years alongside Tom Phillips, former chief executive of Raytheon. Upon his death, Olsen left his personal papers to Gordon. The collection will move to Baker Library in order to take advantage of Baker’s expertise in historical document preservation and the Library’s technological capabilities.

Digital Equipment Corporation Programmed Data Processor 1, 1959 (Photo: Kenneth H. Olsen Collection, Baker Library, Harvard Business School)

“Gordon College is delighted to provide the Olsen Collection as a permanent loan to the Baker Library,” said Gordon President D. Michael Lindsay. “Ken Olsen and his company, Digital Equipment Corporation, were New England institutions and early visionaries and innovators in the computing age. Making this collection more accessible and prominent will help preserve Ken’s legacy and introduce him and his seminal work to a younger generation. He was a man who believed strongly that a serious pursuit of science and a commitment to faith could be compatible and not contradictory. It is a perspective we continue pursue at Gordon College.”

The collection also includes materials associated with Olsen’s role as a member of the board of private equity firm American Research and Development Corporation (ARD), and his close friendship with Harvard Business School professor Georges Doriot, often referred to as the “father of venture capitalism” and a lifelong professional advisor. ARD is credited with being the first major venture capital success story stemming from its 1957 investment in DEC. Dorothy E. Rowe, a senior vice president, treasurer and secretary to the corporation at ARD as well as a member of the board of directors for DEC, is also featured in the collection. She is an early, and relatively undocumented, woman pioneer in venture capital.

“This collection is an important resource for anyone studying venture capital, especially the field’s early days,” said Laura Linard, senior director, Baker Library Special Collections. “The papers include many of the seminal documents around the formation of DEC, including original business plans, materials that are difficult to locate and eagerly sought after by researchers. The collection is also just one of many examples of archival materials in Baker Library on some of New England’s industry-leading and pioneering companies, including Genzyme, the Polaroid Corporation and Wang Laboratories, Inc.”

Drawing, Magnetic Tape Handler, Jan. 9, 1957 (Photo: Kenneth H. Olsen Collection, Baker Library, Harvard Business School)

Also included in the collection are:

  • DEC brochures, manuals, product design records, technical drawings, schematics, and photographs.
  • Speech and presentation files, including speeches by Olsen and supporting documents on topics related to DEC, the computer industry, and business leadership to both internal and external audiences from the 1960s to the 1990s.
  • Records from the 1950s to 1990s that document ARD.
  • Biographical materials from the 1940s to 2011, including records of Olsen’s education, early professional experience at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, appointments calendars, professional activities outside of DEC and personal papers related to his family and religious faith.

The Gaspé de Beaubien Reading Room, which houses special collections, is located on the first floor of the Baker Library | Bloomberg Center. It is open to the public, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Above: Ken Olsen (left) and DEC employees examine computer circuit boards, 1970s (Photo: Kenneth H. Olsen Collection, Baker Library, Harvard Business School)