Dr. Vannevar Bush (March 11 1890 — June 30 1974) was an American engineer, scientist, politician, and visionary of the 20th century. Throughout his lifetime, he made vital contributions to academia, industry, and the highest levels of government.
Vannevar Bush played a critical role in helping the United States transition from wartime research during World War II to research with applications in the civilian domain. His students and those he influenced, including Claude Shannon, Douglas Englebart, and many others, went on to contribute great things to science and the world, such as information theory and hypertext. Bush received 18 honorary degrees from American universities; special recognition or awards from 3 American presidents; served as chairman or director on the boards of numerous private and governmental science and technology-related organizations; and helped found the National Science Foundation.
Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1890, Bush graduated from Tufts College in 1913 with a B.S. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering. Shortly thereafter, he began teaching mathematics and electrical engineering at Tufts College. Between 1916 and 1917 he received degrees in engineering from both Harvard and MIT. Between 1913 and 1917, he was with the General Electric testing department and as an inspector for the U.S. Navy; and during WWI he worked on submarine detection.
In 1919, Bush joined the electrical engineering department at MIT. In 1923, he was made Professor of Electric Power Transmission. Throughout the late 20s and early 30s, Bush and his students developed the differential analyser, a mechanical device that used a variety of complex gears and other analog tools to solve differential equations with as many as 18 variables. This was inspired by Charles Babbage's difference engine, and was an obvious precursor to the modern-day digital computer.
By 1932, Vannevar Bush was appointed Vice President of MIT and Dean of the School of Engineering. Throughout the 1930s, he focused on the information-storage capacity of microfilm, and in 1938, developed and patented a device called the rapid selector, another precursor to computers and the Internet. This device quickly shuffled between microfilm cartridges, displaying their contents on a screen. He referred to this as a "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." This device became commonly known as a Memex.
Vannevar Bush was elected President of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C., in 1938, one of the greatest scientific establishments in the world at the time. He influenced President Roosevelt to focus more attention on science, forging a relationship between science and the government that persists to this day. In 1940 he was appointed Chairman of the President's National Defense Research Committee, which oversaw the Manhattan Project and many other important research projects during World War II. As the war ended, Bush proposed the creation of a fundamental alliance between the government, business, and academia, eventually resulting in the creation of the National Science Foundation.
Vannevar Bush is credited by many as the best engineer of the 20th century, and the greatest champion of science since Einstein.