Ken Thompson (sitting) and Dennis Ritchie (standing) in front of a PDP-11. Ritchie annotated this press image for Bell Labs as "an amusing photo," and he joked that he had much "more luxuriant and darker hair" at the time of the photo than when it appeared in magazines like the March 1999 Scientific American (which, unfortunately, incorrectly swapped IDs for the two).
ArsTechinica hits a home run describing the circuitous way UNIX came to be by brilliant guys working in a loose environment that allowed them to be smart and creative in ways that truly boggle the mind. :)
Luckily for computer enthusiasts, constraint can at times lead to immense creativity. And so the most influential operating system ever written was not funded by venture capitalists, and the people who wrote it didn’t become billionaires because of it. Unix came about because Bell Labs hired smart people and gave them the freedom to amuse themselves, trusting that their projects would be useful more often than not. Before Unix, researchers at Bell Labs had already invented the transistor and the laser, as well as any number of innovations in computer graphics, speech synthesis, and speech recognition.
It gets better.
Still, there was one tiny problem for Thompson and his fellow tinkerers at the moment—nobody had a computer. While lab management had no problem with computers as such, McIlroy’s programmers couldn’t convince their bosses to give them one. Having been burned badly by the Multics fiasco, Davis wasn’t sold on the team’s pitch to give them a new computer so they could continue operating system research and development. From lab management’s perspective, it seemed like Thompson and the rest of the team just wanted to keep working on the Multics project.
Scrounging for hardware ...
Acoustics still had that computer, but they weren’t using it and had stuck it somewhere out of the way up on the sixth floor.
And so Thompson, an indefatigable explorer of the labs’ nooks and crannies, finally found that PDP-7 shortly after Davis and Baker cancelled Multics.
With the rest of the team’s help, Thompson bundled up the various pieces of the PDP-7—a machine about the size of a refrigerator, not counting the terminal—moved it into a closet assigned to the acoustics department, and got it up and running. One way or another, they convinced acoustics to provide space for the computer and also to pay for the not infrequent repairs to it out of that department’s budget.
Seventh Edition Unix was an important early release of the Unix operating system from 1979. It was the last Bell Labs release to go widespread before AT&T commercialized Unix. Fun fact: The user ("dmr") and home directory ("/usr/dmr") for Dennis Ritchie are still present.
Sidenote, yours truly actually had one of these ... :)
Eventually, Thompson made it to Murray Hill. To his surprise, he found Bell Labs to his liking and accepted the job offer. And a short while later, he received a box from his friend in Pensacola—a box with a baby alligator inside. Rather than quickly dispatching it, Thompson adopted the gator and kept it in a glass baking dish on the radiator in his office, feeding it bologna and hot dogs from time to time until it escaped. It reappeared some days later in a typing pool on one of the lower floors, standing on its hind legs. Thompson recalled it hissing at a secretary who was standing on her hind legs and screaming. Ultimately, Thompson was allowed to stay on at Bell Labs—but the gator had to go… not before biting a few Nobel Prize winners, at least according to Thompson.
Back in the day where America did things, amazing things like building UNIX, the OS that connects the world was the norm, not the exception, something that needs to be changed now without question.
Endnote, my gator was named Albert who also came in a box. Said predator started at 10 inches, grew to almost 3 feet before mercifully dying of natural causes. Hamburger, hot dogs plus any leftovers of the meat variety were on the menu for this incredibly intense animal. :)