Computer pioneer Arnold Spielberg, Steven’s dad, dies at 103

Published September 1, 2020
Arnold Spielberg, father of filmmaker Steven Spielberg and an innovating engineer whose work helped make the personal computer possible, has died at 103. — AP
Arnold Spielberg, father of filmmaker Steven Spielberg and an innovating engineer whose work helped make the personal computer possible, has died at 103. — AP

LOS ANGELES: Arnold Spielberg, father of filmmaker Steven Spielberg and an innovating engineer whose work helped make the personal computer possible, has died at 103. Spielberg died of natural causes while surrounded by his family in Los Angeles last Tuesday, according to a statement from his four children.

Spielberg and Charles Propster designed the GE-225 mainframe computer in the late 1950s while working for General Electric. The machine allowed computer scientists at Dartmouth College to develop the programming language BASIC, which would be essential to the rise of personal computers in the 1970s and 80s.

“Dad explained how his computer was expected to perform, but the language of computer science in those days was like Greek to me,” Steven Spielberg told a General Electric publication. “It all seemed very exciting, but it was very much out of my reach.

“When I see a PlayStation, when I look at a cellphone from the smallest calculator to an iPad I look at my dad and I say, `My dad and a team of geniuses started that’,” Spielberg said in the family statement.

Arnold Spielberg said of his son in a 2016 interview: “I tried to get him interested in engineering, but his heart was in movies. At first I was disappointed, but then I saw how good he was in moviemaking.”

Arnold helped Steven produce his first fully-fledged movie, 'Firelight', made in 1963 when the budding director was 16.

“The story was a forerunner to Steven’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with aliens landing on Earth, and I built the special effects,” Arnold Spielberg told the Jewish Journal in 2012.

The son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, Arnold Spielberg was born in Cincinnati in 1917. He was obsessed with gadgetry from the start, building his own crystal radio at age nine and a ham radio at 15, developing skills he would use during World War II as a radio operator and chief communications man for the 490th Bomb Squadron, also known as the Burma Bridge Busters.

His experiences during the war were part of the inspiration for his son’s 1998 film Saving Private Ryan.

Arnold Spielberg graduated from the University of Cincinnati and went to work in computer research for RCA, where he helped develop the first point-of-sale computerised cash register, before moving on to GE.

Steven Spielberg, 73, was Arnold Spielberg’s firstborn child. He also had three daughters: screenwriter Anne Spielberg, producer Nancy Spielberg and marketing executive Sue Spielberg.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2020

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