SAGE Transition

By the late 1950s, Lincoln Laboratory was becoming overwhelmed by the magnitude of its responsibilities for standing up the nation's first air defense system. The next phase of SAGE would be integrating interceptor weapons into the software, and that job was so massive that the Laboratory would have had to double in size. MIT, however, was unwilling to let Lincoln Laboratory grow any larger. Furthermore, the original purpose of the Laboratory—research and development—had nothing to do with system implementation of such a vast engineering task. Nonetheless, the SAGE program was continuing. Direction centers were under construction and weapons had begun to be integrated.

Late in 1957, Secretary of the Air Force James Douglas began a discussion with MIT about the future of the program. The Institute had grown increasingly reluctant to continue its involvement in a program that had less and less to do with research and more to do with implementation.


By 1957, Lincoln Laboratory had fulfilled its original charter. The Laboratory moved on to find new mission areas, particularly in ballistic missile defense and communications, and began to take on a new set of problems involving technology in the interest of national security.

The Air Force had approached multiple contractors, but they were either uninterested or unsuitable. What the Air Force needed was a contractor that understood the increasingly complex SAGE system, and Lincoln Laboratory was the only candidate.

Only one option was left—to create a new organization. The Secretary of the Air Force suggested that part of Lincoln Laboratory, the Digital Computer Division, be spun off from the rest of the Laboratory to continue the systems engineering for SAGE on its own. MIT agreed with the proposal, and the MITRE Corporation was established.

MITRE was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in July 1958, and Robert Everett left Lincoln Laboratory to become MITRE's first director.  On January 1, 1959, 485 Lincoln Laboratory employees transferred to MITRE. Neither MIT nor Lincoln Laboratory would remain officially connected with MITRE, but the technical competence of the SAGE project was assured.

Lincoln Laboratory had fulfilled its original charter. With the departure of almost 500 personnel, the Laboratory became a much smaller organization. But after a pause for reevaluation, Lincoln Laboratory found new mission areas, particularly in the areas of ballistic missile defense and communications, and began to take on new problems involving technology in the interest of national security.

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