Martin Newell was afraid about his Ph.D. analysis as he sat bottomward to tea with his wife one day in 1974. His work, at the University of Utah, was in the almost new acreage of computer graphics. Some years earlier, the computer scientists David Evans and Ivan Sutherland had appear to Utah, transforming the university into the world’s arch centermost for computer cartoon research.
Evans, who had abysmal ancestors access to Utah, was a ascent brilliant back the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, had recruited him to alpha its computer science administration in 1965. At the time, he’d been on the adroitness of the University of California, Berkeley, and was one of the arch board on Project Genie [PDF]. This pathbreaking accomplishment on time-shared accretion was accurate by the U.S. Defense Department’s Advanced Analysis Projects Administration, or ARPA.
In 1968, Evans absorbed Ivan Sutherland abroad from a tenured captain at Harvard to accompany him in Utah at the computer science department, as able-bodied as at a new aggregation the brace would form, Evans & Sutherland. Sutherland was a avant-garde in computer graphics, alpha with his development of the acclaimed Sketchpad software for his 1963 Ph.D. at MIT; his apriorism adviser was Claude Shannon. Sketchpad is broadly beheld as the aboriginal computer-aided architecture program. In this 1994 talk, Sutherland recounts how he created Sketchpad:
After MIT, Sutherland served as administrator of the Information Processing Techniques Office at ARPA area he accurate Project Genie [PDF]. In 1965, Sutherland abutting Harvard, area he undertook important aboriginal assignment in basic absoluteness focused on head-mounted displays. Three years later, he abutting Evans in Utah.
Back to Newell’s problem: The alum apprentice was analytic for aloof the appropriate commodity to archetypal in three ambit on a computer, alluringly commodity that had the appropriate set of challenges but wasn’t impossibly complex. His wife, Sandra, appropriate their Melitta teapot [pictured at top]. The direct white teapot had curves and cogitating surfaces, both simple abundant to be acquiescent and difficult abundant to be challenging.
Following Newell’s absorbing clay of the teapot, added advisers adopted it, application it to advance and analyze new software and hardware. Indeed, the Utah teapot anon became what the historians Cyrus C.M. Mody and Michael Lynch accept alleged a “test object” [PDF]: an commodity that is acclimated to analysis experimenters and abstracts and thereby advice actualize new knowledge.
Computer science alumni from the University of Utah went on to accomplish absorbing and assorted contributions to computing, and abnormally computer graphics. Many played key roles in the conception of Pixar Animation Studios and the company’s amount technologies. It should appear as no abruptness again that the Utah teapot had adornment appearances in the Pixar blockbusters Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. This video shows some of the teapot’s sightings over the years:
An abridged adaptation of this commodity appears in the November 2017 book affair as “The Teapot Test.”
Part of a continuing series looking at photographs of actual artifacts that embrace the great abeyant of technology.
David C. Brock is a historian of technology and administrator of the Centermost for Software History at the Computer History Museum, in Mountain View, Calif.
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