Vannevar Bush

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Vannevar Bush

Vannevar Bush (March 11, 1890June 30, 1974) was an American engineer, inventor, and politician, known for his political role in the development of the atomic bomb, and idea of the memex —seen as a pioneering concept for the world wide web. He was allegedly a member of the secret committee Majestic 12 investigating UFO activities.

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



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 Institution 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 the 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.

The Memex

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."

As scholars like Buckland have proven, the memex was severely flawed because Bush did not understand information science, or microfilm very well. Also, Bush never bothered to do much research on previous systems. He was ignorant of the microfilm based workstation proposed by Leonard Townsend in 1938 or the more detailed microfilm and electronics based selector, patented by Emmanuel Goldberg in 1931.

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 technology.

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 the Atlantic Monthly in July 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 (19 November 1945) Life magazine published a condensed version of "As We May Think," accompanied by several illustrations showing the possible appearance of a memex machine and its companion devices. This version of the essay was subsequently read by both Ted Nelson and Douglas Engelbart, and inspired them to independently formulate the various ideas that became hypertext.

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 of the Empire State Building with a Niagara Falls-scale cooling system, although this could be considered a metaphor for systems such as the entire collection of Google Linux servers (whose collective size and thermal emissions may very well be on the same scale).


  • Buckland, Michael K. "Emanuel Goldberg, Electronic Document Retrieval, And Vannevar Bush's Memex". Journal of the American Society for Information Science 43, no. 4 (May 1992): 284-294


  • 1922, Principles of Electrical Engineering.
  • 1929, Operational Circuit Analysis.
  • 1945, July, "As We May Think", Atlantic Monthly.
  • 1946, Endless Horizons, a collection of papers and addresses.
  • 1949, "Modern Arms and Free Men", a discussion of the role of science in preserving democratic institutions.
  • 1967, Science Is Not Enough, essays.
  • 1970, "Pieces of the Action", an examination of science and the state.

External links

de:Vannevar Bush it:Vannevar Bush ja:ヴァネヴァー・ブッシュ pl:Vannevar Bush


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