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NSA Historical Figures

Seymour R. Cray

2018 Hall of Honor Inductee

Seymour R. Cray had a profound effect on NSA’s mission from the 1950s to the 1990s. His work was crucial to NSA in technical aspects of the Cold War.

Mr. Cray’s designs in the 1950s significantly advanced NSA’s early computing abilities. Adopting his inventions, NSA fielded a widespread system that for the first time allowed analysts remote access to signals intelligence information (SIGINT). 

Over the next four decades, Seymour Cray designed the world’s fastest, most powerful supercomputers. NSA acquired two that made innovative use of transistors and proved critical to signals intelligence (SIGINT) processing in the Vietnam War. 

In 1978, Mr. Cray adapted the software for his Cray-1 to NSA-specific tasks. This computing power made it possible for NSA to tackle previously intractable analytic challenges. In 1985, the Cray-2 provided NSA massive memory capabilities not seen before.

NSA continued to benefit from Mr. Cray’s supercomputer designs with ever-increasing processing speed and larger memory. This ended only with his sudden death in 1996 in an automobile accident.

A former NSA Chief Scientist said, “He had no equal in his ability to literally ‘see’ the architectural and technology breakthroughs essential to get to the next level of performance. And what is also truly amazing is the extent to which his unique developments have endured in the industry to this day.”

Concerned about Cold War dangers, Seymour Cray clearly understood NSA’s role. His work in advancing to the “cutting edge” in each era was critical to NSA’s mission, and it is difficult to imagine NSA successes in the Cold War without supercomputers Seymour Cray invented or designed.