History - 75 years cutting edge research

Some milestones from CWI’s past:

In 2021 CWI celebrates its 75th anniversary. What a history we have to be proud of!

The first Dutch computer (ARRA), a globally used algorithm for route navigation (Dijkstra’s shortest path algorithm) and the development of one of the most widely used programming languages in the world (Python) are three highlights from our rich history.

The history of CWI started in 1946, when the institute was founded under the name Mathematisch Centrum. Its purpose was to help rebuild the Netherlands after the Second World War.

The statutes stated that this was to be achieved by ‘promoting the systematic practice of pure and applied mathematics in the Netherlands’. It had to lead to ‘the raising of the level of prosperity and civilisation in the Netherlands’. In addition, the aim was ‘to increase the contribution of the Netherlands to international culture’.

Due to the ever-growing societal importance of computer science, the institute was renamed Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) in 1983.

CWI connects mathematics with computer science, fundamental with applied research, science with industry and also links its own scientific research to education and training at universities.

Here is a brief overview of CWI's rich history:

  • CWI was founded in 1946 to contribute to post-war reconstruction
  • CWI developed the first computers in the Netherlands, the ARRA (1952) and its successors. Watch the Google movie Remembering ARRA: A pioneer in Dutch computing.
  • CWI used an ARRA to do calculations for the successful Fokker F-27 Friendship airplane and continued to produce computers via Elektrologica (1956), the first spin-off company of CWI
  • In the 1950s, CWI performed calculations for the Delta Works, which were designed to protect the Dutch coastline after the great flood of 1953
  • CWI co-developed the computer languages ALGOL 60 and -68
  • Computer pioneers Adriaan van Wijngaarden and Edsger Dijkstra both worked at the Mathematisch Centrum – as CWI was then known
  • CWI established the first civil connection between Europe and the Internet on 17 November 1988

  • CWI registered the NL top level domain '.nl' on 25 April 1986. It was one of the first country domains in the world. The .nl top-level domain was registered by Piet Beertema (CWI), who is also known as the godfather of .nl.
  • CWI had the first Internet domain in the Netherlands, cwi.nl, from 1 May 1986
  • CWI changed its name from Mathematisch Centrum (‘mathematical centre’) into Centrum voor Wiskunde en Informatica ('centre for mathematics and informatics'), because of the growing importance of computer science
  • CWI co-founded SARA Computing and Networking Services (now SURFsara) together with VU University and the University of Amsterdam (UvA)
  • CWI designed and developed the programming language Python in the 1990s. It is now one of the world’s most popular programming languages. Guido van Rossum, then working at CWI, began developing Python during his Christmas holidays
  • The brilliant scientist David Chaum co-founded modern cryptography research – the science of digital safety – when working at CWI in the 1980s. He designed an anonymous payment system that was not only safe for banks but also for clients and their privacy. He started a spin-off company, DigiCash, which was far ahead of its time and went bankrupt. Chaum's ideas are still being used by scientists
  • CWI is renowned for factoring large numbers. This line of research attracted worldwide attention with the 'crack' of the RSA-512 internet security code in 1999, coordinated by Herman te Riele of CWI
  • Since 1990, CWI has started up 26 spin-off companies.
  • Once every five years CWI presents the Van Wijngaarden Awards and Dijkstra Fellowships to outstanding researchers in mathematics and computer science.

In 2021 CWI celebrated its 75th anniversary with events, a movie with Steven Pemberton and an anniversary magazine.

Read more about CWI's history (in Dutch)