[SIGCIS-Members] Fwd: Origin of "vector" in vector graphics

Guy Fedorkow guy.fedorkow at gmail.com
Sat Feb 20 17:25:20 PST 2021

[oops, I meant to send this to the list, not just Bernard!]

hi Bernard,
   The term was used in the Whirlwind computer, SAGE's predecessor.   
See the programming manual 2M-0277 from 1958 at 
   Page 63 gives this entry

    Vector Displays
    (a) The Vector Generator
    To aid in displaying alphanumerical data, drawing curves, plotting axes,
    etc., on the scopes, an automatic method of displaying vectors on
    the scopes is
    available. The coordinates of one end of the vector are determined
    by the contents
       ... etc ...

   Of course the Whirlwind guys were deep into air defense and aircraft 
from the start, but they were also ace applied mathematicians, so I'm 
guessing that calling a directed line a "vector" was the obvious thing 
at the time.
   The word "vector" seems to appear almost a thousand times in the 
corpus of Whirlwind documents available on the MIT DOME site, with 
usages that seem both mathematical and aeronautical.

On 2/20/2021 3:27 AM, Bernard Geoghegan wrote:
> Hi SIGCISers,
> Can anyone advise on the origin of the term “vector graphics.”
> Clearly, it literally describes a production of “vectors” on the 
> screen by a concrete line-drawing technology. However, I’m wondering 
> if there were multiple senses in that term initially. Specifically, 
> looking through SAGE documentation from the 1950s and 1960s, esp, 
> accounts of if operator displays, “vector” describes the physical 
> trajectory of planes on the display. As SAGE was also a key source for 
> early graphical interfaces, I’m wondering of the term “vector 
> graphics” had a double connotation, as an analogy between the flight 
> paths and the manner of illustrating graphics.
> It’s not earth shaking, but it’s etymologically neat-o if one can 
> trace “vector graphics” to multiple connotations at its coinage.
> Best, b
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