Vannevar Bush

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Bush, Vannevar

(văn`əvər), 1890–1974, American electrical engineer and physicist, b. Everett, Mass., grad. Tufts College (B.S., 1913). He went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1919; there he was professor (1923–32) and vice president and dean of engineering (1932–38). During this period he devised a network analyzer to simulate the performance of large electrical networks. He is best known for his design of the differential analyzer, an analog computer that could solve differential equations with as many as 18 independent variables. From 1939 until 1955 he was president of the Carnegie Institution. From 1941 to 1945 he was also the director of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development, where he administered the U.S. war effort to utilize and advance military technology. He directed such programs as the development of the first atomic bomb, the perfection of radar, and the mass production of sulfa drugs and penicillin. In 1955 he returned to MIT, retiring in 1971. Bush wrote Endless Horizons (1975) and Modern Arms and Free Men (1985).


See his autobiography (1971); J. M. Nyce et al., ed., From Memex to Hypertext: Vannevar Bush and the Mind's Machine (1992); G. P. Zachary, Vannevar Bush: Engineer of the American Century (1997).

Bush, Vannevar

(1890–1974) engineer, government official; born in Everett, Mass. With a varied background in academic studies, private industry (General Electric), and government research (including antisubmarine work for the U.S. Navy in World War I), he became an engineering professor, later dean, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1919–38). During these years he also kept his hand in the private sector as a consulting engineer, among other things founding the company that became the Raytheon Corporation. He also conducted research that led to several inventions including a differential analyzer (1928), a direct ancestor of the modern computer. As early as 1940 he was becoming active in organizing the U.S. scientists and engineers for the imminent war; this was formalized when he was appointed director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development. After the war, he continued to serve as an adviser to various governmental boards and agencies on scientific policies. Through many years (1938–55) he also served as president of the Carnegie Institution. In his later years he published numerous articles and books for a broader public, including Modern Arms and Free Men (1949), which called for closer ties between responsible science and public policies.

Vannevar Bush


Vannevar Bush

Dr. Vannevar Bush, 1890-1974. The man who invented hypertext, which he called memex, in the 1930s.

Bush did his undergraduate work at Tufts College, where he later taught. His masters thesis (1913) included the invention of the Profile Tracer, used in surveying work to measure distances over uneven ground. In 1919, he joined MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering, where he stayed for twenty-five years. In 1932, he was appointed vice-president and dean. At this time, Bush worked on optical and photocomposition devices, as well as a machine for rapid selection from banks of microfilm.

Further positions followed: president of the Carnegie Institute in Washington, DC (1939); chair of National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (1939); director of Office of Scientific Research and Development. This last role was as presidential science advisor, which made him personally responsible for the 6,000 scientists involved in the war effort. During World War II, Bush worked on radar antenna profiles and the calculation of artillery firing tables. He proposed the development of an analogue computer, which later became the Rockefeller Differential Analyser.

Bush is the pivotal figure in hypertext research. His ground-breaking 1945 paper, "As We May Think," speculated on how a machine might be created to assist human reasoning, and introduced the idea of an easily accessible, individually configurable storehouse of knowledge. This machine, which he dubbed "memex," in various ways anticipated hypermedia and the World Wide Web by nearly half a century.

Electronic Labyrinth article.

Bush's famous article, "As We May Think".