The American Standards Association (now ANSI) held the organizational
meeting for Committee X3, Computers and Information Processing, at the
end of January of 1961 . It adopted the scope and program of
work that I had drafted at the request of John McPherson and Jim
Birkenstock, IBM Vice Presidents.
The ISO counterpart, Technical Committee TC97, was to hold its
organizational meeting in 1961 May, at Geneva. I had prepared a similar
but expanded scope and program of work.
I then lived in Weston, Connecticut. Early TV fare had a late night
horror movie hosted by a character named Zacherly, made up to look very
gaunt, as though risen from the dead. If you bought the sponsor's
product (CocoaMarsh), you could get your very own Transylvanian
passport. It had Zacherly's picture and a place for yours (as the
That year I was an ACM National Lecturer, and on the tour I found a
self-photo machine in Houston's Hobby Airport. A horrible grimace
completed my passport, as issued by Transylvania.
My wife Marion joined me in Las Vegas, and we drove to Los Angeles for
the Western Joint Computer Conference, thence to San Francisco to
participate in an Armer-Gruenberger RAND Symposium. Back overnight to
Idlewild Airport (now JFK), where I had preparked a car with a change of
clothing. Then to the TWA counter for trip 1961-#5 while she returned
There I presented my Transylvanian passport to much laughter from the
agents. And my real one. The agent said "This one isn't nearly so funny
- it expired yesterday!" I asked how I could repair the situation.
Impossible. I persisted. Finally he allowed that he could try the duty
officer at the State Department in Washington, as I insisted the
conference was quite important to the U.S., but the plane left in 45
Ten minutes to takeoff, the duty officer called with approval. All my
luggage was put in a shopping cart, and I was exhorted to "run" all the
distance to the plane, parked out in the field ready to leave. When I
scrambled up the ramp and appeared in the cabin everyone cheered, having
all been told the story, with the low odds of my making it.
I had no idea what trouble I might find at Orly, but I was cut out of
the line by an Air France stewardess holding a length of Teletype tape.
While everyone else had to go through formalities, I was just shown to a
taxi and told to go to the U.S. Embassy. There I told it to the
Marines. An important official was awakened at home, but declined to
come to the embassy. I persisted, and he was awakened again. This time
he arrived, about 2 A.M., and reissued my passport under embassy
authority. His remark about my taxi ride was "You sure must have an
honest face. Don't you know that Paris is now under martial law?"
A quick sleep at the Hotel Scribe, and I caught the planned plane to
Geneva. To more surprise I was again cut from the herd by a young man
from the U.S. Embassy, who drove me directly to the conference, even
helping with my luggage. I don't know who they thought I was, but it is
nice to look back and believe that something really important to the
world did happen there -- the genesis of worldwide standards for
computer usage and data interchange.
Back to History Index
Back to Home Page
- J.A.N. Lee, "The 25th Anniversary of Committee X3", Annals of the
History of Computing, 9, No. 3/4, pp. 345-354.