Spreading Good News (Post 529 – BLACK HISTORY MONTH: African American Computer Pioneer, Roy L. Clay, Sr.)

The goal of Spreading Good News is for readers to:

GET INSPIRED and/or GET MOTIVATED and/or GET INFORMED and/or GET AWE-STRUCK and/or GET A BREAK FROM ALL THE NEGATIVE NEWS and to tell readers about our good, short books and our online store.












Candle-Lighter Award


Thank you very much to www.living4bliss.wordpress.com for presenting me with the Candle-Lighter Award.  I truly appreciate the recognition!

The Candle-Lighter Award is an award for a blog or post that is positive and brings light into the world.

I started this “Good News” blog in July 2010 because I was tired of and disgusted by all the negative news and information.  I wanted to give people positive news and information.  I’m having a great time looking for, receiving, and posting these pieces!  Stay tuned!!


Whenever you see a blog or post you think brightens the world, give the blogger the Candle-Lighter Award.

Recipients can accept or decline. What does the recipient have to do?  Simply accept and nothing more!  You can paste this image on your blog, if you wish, and you are done!  If you wish to honor someone else with a Candle, pass it on, anytime and as many times and to as many people as you wish.

Come on and help me brighten up all our lives!



We all should know more about the contributions that African-Americans have made in the fields of science and medicine, as well as art, music, the written word, sports, and just-everyday life.

In honor of “Black History Month,” I will be Spreading Good News with daily posts of informative, educational, entertaining pieces about Black History.

I hope you enjoy this piece!

BLACK HISTORY MONTH:  African American Computer Pioneer, Roy L. Clay, Sr.


Before there was Bill Gates, there was Roy L. Clay, Sr.

To today’s iPad generation, accustomed to lightweight portable computing power, the first computer Roy L. Clay, Sr. helped build may seem like a relic.

When Clay, now 82, learned how to program computer code in 1956, Bill Gates was in diapers. Universities didn’t have computer science programs. And a computer stable enough to run for a full day without failing was the holy grail.

David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard Co., brought Clay on board in 1965 to build that computer.

Packard heard about Clay from a friend who had worked on the Manhattan Project, the United States’ answer to Germany’s nuclear-development program during World War II. In 1958 Clay was a computer programmer at what is now Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, turning the ethereal into something tangible: He wrote software that showed how particles of radiation would spread through the atmosphere after an atomic explosion.

What Packard had in mind were computers that would work with other instrumentation that HP built. He knew nothing about software.

“He trusted that to me,” Clay said.

Clay was born in Kinloch, the oldest African American community incorporated in Missouri. He lived in a home with no indoor plumbing, a neighborhood with no streetlights, in an area with a tradition of police picking up black boys like Clay if they wandered outside of Kinloch after dark.

“Everybody cared,” Clay said of his hometown. His first teacher “inspired me to do well. By the time I left that little school, I thought I could learn to do anything.”

Clay, a Saint Louis University graduate who majored in mathematics, continued to seize every opportunity that came his way. Through hard work, intellect and a bit of luck, not only would he eventually become CEO of his own company, but he would advise a venture capital superstar whose investments gave life to Silicon Valley start-ups, beginning with Tandem Computers.

“I started the HP computer company coming from Kinloch, Missouri. What I could do, many other people could do. I didn’t see myself as a special person,” Clay says. “Sometimes the breaks didn’t come to get some people through. I had that break. I grasped the opportunity to break through.”

Clay set up HP’s computer-development business in an atmosphere conducive to creativity. His workers began the day by playing golf together at daybreak and filtered into HP around 9 a.m. They left when their work was done.

Bill Hewlett, HP’s other founder, was not pleased. “That’s not the HP way,” Hewlett told Clay. HP employees were to arrive at 7:45 a.m., take coffee between 9:35 and 9:45, begin a one-hour lunch break at 11:45, take a second 10-minute coffee break at 2:35 and leave at 4:30 p.m.

Hewlett’s resistance softened when Clay’s team was still toiling away at 10 p.m. on a Saturday when Hewlett called for help resuscitating his computer.

That computer Clay and colleagues designed in 1965 was named 2116A, and it was about the size of a typewriter. (By contrast, the computer in the radiation lab was the size of 100 refrigerators standing side by side, housed in an air-conditioned room because it wilted in heat or humidity.) In addition to shrinking the size of the computer, they improved its reliability.

By the time he left HP, he was the highest-ranking African American at the company. He started his own company, Rod-L Electronics, in 1977. His late wife, Virginia, came up with the name from their middle son’s first and middle names, Rodney Lewis, because she liked its high-tech sound.

In the mid-1970s, Clay discovered that Underwriters’ Laboratories was going to require an electrical safety test on electrical products to ensure that they wouldn’t shock or cause a fire. He reached out to HP, IBM, AT&T, and Xerox. Each became his business partner.

At the end of each of those companies’ production lines is the automated dielectric withstand tester that Clay developed. For years, computers carried a Rod-L sticker. “If it didn’t have Rod-L on that rear panel, it meant it was not a real IBM computer,” Clay said.

In 1973 Clay became the first African American to serve as councilman for the city of Palo Alto. Galvanized by a Nixon-era policy proposal of “benign neglect,” which aimed to withhold resources from urban neighborhoods, he helped organize networking events for black technology workers. The 2003 Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame inductee continues to lend his expertise and connections to the next generation of African American leaders.

“The way to get through benign neglect is to get African Americans in positions to do things so we can get others in positions to do things,” Clay says.


What are your thoughts on this piece?


NOTE FROM JOYCEIf you enjoyed and/or learned from this blog, please leave a comment and send the link to others.  Thanks!!

If you’re interested in reading all about “My Breast Cancer Journey,” those posts start with post #334.


~ Joyce Fields



Joyce is an author who has written seven books.  If you enjoy this blog, you will, undoubtedly, enjoy all her books.  Her sister, Anita, is also an author.

BE INSPIRED!  You can read about and order their books AND order merchandise from their online store at this link (or click the “BE INSPIRED!” button above):


Thanks for your interest AND support!!

Contact Joyce at goodshortbooks@yahoo.com.



I visit these blogs and leave comments regularly.  I think you will enjoy them all!

http://www.lenasledgeblog.com  Books, reviews, give-aways, interviews.

http://living4bliss.com  Believing Life Is Set up for Success (BLISS)

http://goss-coaching.com/author/gosscoaching  A professional writer and wellness coach helping people connect thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and action to create optimal health and a vibrant life.

http://www.thebirkineffect.com  Musings of a “want it all” 21st century woman

http://www.thesweetsensations.com  A baking, entertainment, and lifestyle blog.  Fantastic recipes and food photography, too!

http://www.pennilessparenting.com  A rich life on minimum wage.  Plus fabulous, healthful recipes!

http://www.rumpydog.com  I’m a dog with a unique perspective on human life.


About Line of Serenity (Joyce Fields)

As a thought leader for today's generation, I choose to be part of the solution and am doing things that positively impact people's lives. In addition to being a happy, married (since 1967!) woman, sister, aunt, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, I have over 40 years' experience in "Corporate America": Stenographer, Secretary, Supervisor, Analyst, Office Manager, Executive Assistant. I am also a professional proofreader and the author of 10 books (mostly non-fiction)--http://www.GoodShortBooks.com).
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4 Responses to Spreading Good News (Post 529 – BLACK HISTORY MONTH: African American Computer Pioneer, Roy L. Clay, Sr.)

  1. Nita says:

    Mr. Clay’s story was very interesting! It’s amazing how much African Americans have contributed to society without receiving full recognition for those accomplishments. Kudos to Mr. Clay!

  2. living4bliss says:

    OOOO!!! I am a computer nerd (ask anyone.) I have my degree and certifications from Cisco and Micorosoft. I have been teaching computer technology (including the history of computers) since the early 1990s and I never heard of Clay.

    I have done tons of research on HP and even my students do research projects about them and their history because I try to inspire my students to pursue entrepreneurship.

    That is so upsetting that such an accomplished man is not even mentioned in the pages of geekdom where I used to dwell. That has now changed. I will add him to my lectures.

    We have come so far but have so far to go…

    Thank you for continuing to educate me, my friend. You are such a blessing.

    • It truly is amazing that, with your knowledge of computers and computer history, you never heard of Roy Clay!! It’s awful that this information is not widely known. Very glad you will include him in your lectures. Thanks for the comment and your blessing, Saundra!!

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