Vannevar Bush Biography (1890-1974)


Vannevar Bush was the inventor of one of the first computers, the differential analyzer. He was also a key figure in directing United States scientific research during World War II. Bush was born in Everett, Massachusetts, where his father was a Universalist minister. After receiving B.S. and M.S. degrees in 1913 from Tufts College (now University), in 1916 he earned a doctorate inengineering at MIT and Harvard University. After performing acoustic researchfor the Navy during World War I, Bush joined the MIT faculty, becoming deanof the school of engineering in 1932. Bush patented his first engineering invention, a surveying device, while still in college. In the 1920s and 1930s hebegan to develop a series of differential analyzers, for solving differential equations with as many as eighteen independent variables. They were analogcomputer s, which used continuous values, such as distance and movement, rather than the binary values of today's digital computers. In this work, Bush was one of the first to construct a machine based on the computer concepts developed in the nineteenth century by Charles Babbage. First intended for use incalculating electrical current movement in power grids, the analyzers eventually became general equation solvers. Later versions could store data. The largest of them used thousands of vacuum tube s and relays and hundreds of miles of wiring. In the late 1930s, Bush also designed a digital computer. Bush'sother inventions include a rapid selector for retrieval of specific information on specially-coded microfilm and a typewriter that can produce even margins on both the left and right (justification). Bush's science policy activities also began in the 1930s. From 1938 to 1955 Bush was president of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, one of the first privately-financed scientificresearch organizations in the United States. During World War II he became director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, which created science policy and carried it out. This included development of radar and theatomic bomb. After World War II, Bush played an important role in the Federalgovernment's financial support of basic research, including establishment ofthe National Science Foundation.

Recent Updates

February 11, 2004: It was announced that Bush will be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in recognition of his invention of the differential analyzer, an early analog computer. The induction ceremony will be held on May 1, 2004, in Akron, Ohio. Source: National Inventors Hall ofFame,, April 8, 2004.

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