Biography of Vannevar Bush


Vannevar Bush (March 11, 1890-June 30, 1974) was an American scientist. Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Bush was educated at Tufts College, graduating in 1913. He joined the Department of Electrical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1919, and was a professor there from 1923-32.

He constructed a Differential Analyser, an analog computer that could solve differential equations with as many as 18 independent variables, based on Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine. An offshoot of the Differential Analyser was the birth of digital circuit design theory by one of Bush’s graduate students, Claude Shannon.

Bush was president of the Carnegie Institute of Washington in 1939 and in the same year appointed chair of National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. In 1940, Bush became chairman of the National Defense Research Committee and in 1941 director of Office of Scientific Research and Development , which controlled the Manhattan Project and coordinated wartime scientific research during World War II. He recommended the creation of what would become the National Science Foundation in order to cement the ties between science, industry and the military which had been forged during the war. Bush was also a cofounder of the defense contractor Raytheon.

He invented the concept of what he called the memex in the 1930s, a microfilm-based “device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility.” In retrospect, the memex was severely flawed because Bush did not understand information science, computers, or microfilm very well. He despised the humanities and social sciences (he badly weakened American anthropology when he choked off a large part of its funding in the 1930s), and refused to talk to the librarians who could have helped refine his ideas. But the memex is still an important accomplishment, because it directly inspired the development of hypertext.

After fantasizing about the potential of microfilm for several years, Bush set out his thoughts at length in the essay “As We May Think” in Atlantic Monthly in 1945. In the article, Bush predicted that, “Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified.” A few months later (November 19th 1945) Life magazinepublished an article with several illustrations showing what a memex machine, and its companion devices, could look like. This version was subsequently read by both Ted Nelson and Douglas Engelbart and inspired them to independently formulate the various ideas that became hypertext.

Vannevar Bush plays an important role in many UFO conspiracy theoriesas the head of Majestic 12, an organization supposedly formed by Dwight Eisenhower to investigate and later cover up an alien crash in Roswell, New Mexico.

The Vannevar Bush Award was created by the National Science Foundation in 1980 to honor contributions to public service.

Vannevar Bush has an unfortunate eponym: vannevar [1] owing to his habit of overestimating technological challenges. He asserted that a nuclear weapon could not be made small enough to fit in the nose of a missile as in an ICBM. He also predicted “electronic brains” the size ofthe Empire State Building with a Niagara Falls-scale cooling system.

His name was pronounced Van-NEE-var. as in “receiver”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s