Joseph A. Weisbecker (1932 - 1990)

Joseph Weisbecker was born September 4, 1932 in New Jersey and obtained his BSEE from Drexel University in 1956. His career included over 20 years of experience in advanced computer and systems R&D, and more than 10 years of experience in consumer toy and game product development. A skilled engineer, writer, and inventor, Weisbecker was a senior member of IEEE, with 24 patents and 12 published articles. He created over a dozen new products from games to computers. Over the course of his career, he received multiple awards including IEEE Computer magazine's best paper award, several RCA labs achievement awards, and the David Sarnoff award for outstanding technical achievement.

Joe Weisbecker died on November 15, 1990. Throughout his long career, he focused on using low-cost computer products to improve the quality of life. He is best known for his development and popularization of RCA's CDP1802 COSMAC microprocessor.

Career Highlights

  • Designed and constructed special purpose relay tic-tac-toe computer... early hobby computer. (1951)
  • Designed and constructed several novel grade school educational aids using lights & switches. (1955)
  • Worked with timers & fluid control systems as draftsman/designer. (1952)
  • Participated in debug and installation of RCA BIZMAC computer system. (1953-56)
  • Member of small team that developed the RCA 501 computer in the late 50's... one of the first commercial, all transistor computers with advanced features such as variable word length, common data bus, etc. Responsible for console, timing circuits, etc.
  • Wrote a variety of T&M and demonstration programs. (1956-58)
  • Performed content-addressed memory and computer architecture studies under applied research grant from Princeton labs. (1958-59)
  • Co-architect of the RCA 601/COMLOGNET computer system during the early 60's. Incorporated a number of advanced features including modularity, multiprocessing, variable instruction length, data word tags, etc. Formed the basis for a successful military communications system. (1959-60)
  • Invented a major improvement in microprogramming systems which was subsequently used in a number of commercial computers and enhanced RCA's computer patent position. (1960)
  • Anticipated mini-computers and developed a small system proposal which was unfortunately ahead of its time and ignored by RCA. This system would have incorporated a low cost dot matrix serial printer, ROM subroutine storage, and combination projector-CRT display. (1960-61)
  • As Advanced Development Staff Engineer, performed studies of future LSI applications and acted as consultant to product line groups for new computer development approaches. (1961-63)
  • Invented a $2 plastic game to introduce basic computer concepts. Over 500,000 sold. Was described in Mathematics magazine and used in helping children with left-right discrimination problems. Impossible to estimate how many children have been turned on to math or computers by devices of this type. (1964)
  • As small company staff engineer, designed prototype optical tape reader (with error correcting code) for experimental data gathering system and interfaced the IBM 1401 computer. (1963-64)
  • Designed and installed custom 20-tape sorting terminal for ESSO to handle New York-London cable traffic. (1964-65)
  • Designed, debugged, and installed 5 custom magnetic tape store & forward terminals for use overdial telephone network. Interfaced system to Honeywell 200 computer. Work done for major trading stamp company. (1965-66)
  • Designed serial printer electronics package. (1956)
  • Participated in RCA new product line system studies including high speed, pipelined architectures. Proposed custom hardware for gathering program statistics to guide subsequent new product design. Hardware was constructed. (1965-69)
  • Invented an improved Cache memory system and was co-developer of a Simscript simulation model for evaluating new large scale computer architecture. Received an RCA labs award for this work. (1970)
  • Invented a significant new 8-bit microcomputer architecture which anticipated competitive introduction of first commercial 4-bit microprocessor. This new 8-bit microprocessor was subsequently called COSMAC and provided the basis for a new RCA microprocessor business. COSMAC effort included creation, prototype development, software development, and documentation. This work received an RCA labs award and the David Sarnoff award for outstanding technical achievement. (1970-71)
  • Developed a prototype low cost microprocessor based recreational or educational system which anticipated programmable video games and hobby computers by about 4 years. This system provided impetus for an RCA entry into the new microprocessor markets. Concurrent work included development of low cost cassette (or phonograph record) storage systems, card readers, light guns, etc. Novel applications software and new programming languages/techniques were also developed. (1971-74)
  • Created a low cost microcomputer training device called Microtutor which provided a new RCA product and formed the basis for a company wide training course in the new field of microprocessors. Created a unique manual and software for use with this product. (1975)
  • Developed a prototype programmable video game aimed at the coin-operated amusement industry. This included a programmable sound IC which would later provide an SSD product. (1975)
  • Created a new, inexpensive, graphic display IC (CDP1861) for use in COSMAC systems. (1975)
  • Created the RCA Studio II video game. This was one of the first two programmable video games on the market and created a new business for RCA. This design was 50% less complex than the competitive product and introduced low cost keyboard game control, limited user programmability, and programming techniques which minimize the cost of add-on ROM cards. Wrote much of the original software for this pioneering system. (1975)
  • Developed a low cost graphic color display approach which formed the basis of Studio III... a second generation RCA video game product. (1976)
  • Created a new hobby computer product called the RCA VIP. This provides RCA's entry into another new rapid growth market. Work included concept, detailed hardware design, manual, new programming language, and applications. (1976-77)
  • Developed the architecture and new programming language for a third generation RCA video game with high resolution color and extensive system expansion capability. (1977)
  • Supersound. (1978) [in pencil]

Non-RCA Publications

  • "A Simplified Microcomputer Architecture," IEEE Computer, March 1974; RCA Engineer, February/March 1974. (article)
  • "COSMAC - A Microprocessor for Minimum Cost Systems," (co-author), IEEE Intercon 14, March 1974. (paper)
  • "Build Flip: A CMOS Game Computer," Popular Electronics, May 1974. (article)
  • "A Practical Low-Cost, Home/School Microprocessor System." IEEE Computer, August 1974; RCA Engineer, February/March 1975; Dr. Dobbs Journal, 1977. (article)
  • "Space War Game." Popular Electronics. April 1976. (article)
  • "Interpretive Programming of Small Microprocessor-Based Systems," (co-author), IEEE Electro 76, May 1976. (paper)
  • "Build the COSMAC Elf" (Part 1) Popular Electronics, Aug. 1976. (article)
  • "Build the COSMAC Elf"(Part 2), Popular Electronics, Sept. 1976. (article)
  • "Build the COSMAC Elf"(Part 3), Popular Electronics, Mar. 1977. (article)
  • "Build the Pixie Graphic Display," Popular Elcctronics July 1977. (article)
  • "Fun and Games with COSMAC" (co-author) IEEE Electro 77 April 1977. (paper)
  • "COSMAC VIP - The RCA Fun Machine," Byte, August 1977. (article)
  • "Microprocessors in Consumer Products," with P. K. Baltzer, P. M. Russo, C. C. Wang, Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 66, No. 2, February 1978.
  • "An Easy Programming System", Byte, December, 1978. (article)

RCA Publications

  • PRRL-71-TR-l21: "Paged Memory Simulation and Experimental Results" June 1971.
  • PRRL-7l-TR-207: "An Eight-Bit Micro-Processor”. gratefully acknowledges the help of Alex Magoun, who was Executive Director of the David Sarnoff Library at the time this article was written, and Joyce Weisbecker, Joseph’s daughter, for contributing information on this page.

© Dave Ruske 2001-2015, except where noted