Fontaine K. Richardson

Fontaine K. Richardson
Fontaine K. Richardson

Early leader, outstanding innovator and entrepreneur in the CAD/CAM industry, who redefined how we conceptualize, design, and produce millions of products.

A pioneer in computer science, Fontaine Richardson has redefined how the field conceptualized, designed, and produced millions of products.

In 1968, he received just the second computer science PhD ever awarded by the University of Illinois. His dissertation introduced the idea that a computer system could be programmed using control flowcharts instead of needing to write code line for line.

Entitled, “Graphical Specification of Computation,” the thesis described a flowchart programming language, FPL/I that was used for ILLIAC II.

Following his work at Illinois, Richardson joined the technical staff of MIT’s Lincoln Laboratories to work with a group using their experimental computer, TX-2, to aid in the design of electronic circuits.

To commercialize the system, he joined co-collaborators Gary Hornbuckle, Richard Spann, and Harry Lee to found Applicon, Inc. in 1969. Largely based on Richardson’s graphics work at the University of Illinois and Lincoln Laboratories, the company developed and offered the Design Assistant, a computer-aided product for the design of photo masks used in the fabrication of integrated circuits and printed circuit boards.

By the early 1970s, Applicon’s systems were already being used to design large-scale integrated circuits and later very large-scale integrated circuits (VLSI) as well as for mechanical and electrical diagrams for various kinds of engineering projects. Matsushita, General Motors, General Electric, Martin Marietta, Siemens, John Deere, Cessna, Boeing and Sandia National were among the companies adopting Applicon’s systems.

Applicon’s tools cut design time in half for some customers. The group designed and manufactured the CAD/CAM industry’s first continuous ink jet printer image blotter in 1977, capable of 300 dots per inch. A year later, the company introduced color raster display terminals and in 1981 became the first turnkey CAD system vendor to offer solids modeling as a standard package. Applicon went public in 1980 with over $100 million in sales, nearly 800 employees and over 500 installed systems in use.

Richardson left Applicon to become an independent consultant and visiting scientist at MIT and, in 1983, joined Eastech Management Company, a venture capital firm, where he served as technical director and a board member for a number of high-tech start-up companies.

Richardson is the recipient of the University of Illinois College of Engineering Alumni Award for Distinguished Service in Engineering. He was a member of the Board of Visitors for the College of Engineering, where he has endowed scholarships in computer science.

Richardson has remained on the forefront of leadership in the industry, serving on the board of directors for Mentor Graphics Corporation from 1983-2011, as lead director for Network Engines, Inc. (2005), as a director of Banyan Systems for 20 years, and as a board member of several companies, including Advance Color Technology, Raster Technologies, Autographix, Meta Graphics, Aries Technology, and Channel Computing.


  • BS University of Arkansas, 1963
  • MS University of Arkansas, 1964
  • PhD Computer Science, 1968