Oral History Transcript — Dr. Herman Goldstine
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Herman Goldstine; March 14, 1977
ABSTRACT: Family background; graduate study in mathematics at University of Chicago in the 1930s under Gilbert A. Bliss, Marsten Morse and Eliakim Hastings Moore; faculty position at the University of Michigan, 1939-1948; war work at the Ballistics Research Laboratory and at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering in Philadelphia; ENIAC and counter technology; John Von Neumannís involvement with computers at Princetonís Institute of Advanced Study; mathematics after World War II. Also prominently mentioned are: Paul N. Gillon, T. H. Hildebrandt, Martin Schwarzschild; Aberdeen Proving Ground, Ballistics Research Laboratory, and University of Pennsylvania.
Stern:Letís begin with some questions about your youth. Then weíll work our way up.
Stern:I know you were born in 1913.
Stern:But I donít know anything about your family.
Goldstine:I see. You want to know that sort of thing?
Goldstine:Yes. My father was a lawyer who practiced in Chicago. My mother was a housewife. And I was born and raised on the North Side of the city of Chicago. I went to a public school called Stephen K. Hayt School, and then I went to the Nicholas Senn High School in Chicago; in my third year to the Los Angeles High School, then back to Senn and finally to the University of Chicago. I started at the University of Chicago in 1930, and I got my Bachelor of Science degree in 1933. Next I got a degree in mathematical astronomy, in fact a Masterís degree in mathematical astronomy, under Walter Bartky. Then in Ď36, I got my Ph.D. in mathematics, under Lawrence M. Graves at the University of Chicago. I next spent a year as research assistant to Raymond Walter Bernard. I helped him to bring out the memoir of a man named Eliakim Hastings Moore, who was the first chairman of the mathematics department at Chicago. I then became a research associate -- I guess that was the title -- and I was the assistant to a man named Gilbert Ames Bliss who was the chairman of the mathematics department. He and I brought out his magnum opus, which was a book on the calculus of variations. That took me to about 1939, but then I kept returning. He brought me back to Chicago each summer for several years. In that period, while I was at Chicago, I was also an instructor at the University College of the University of Chicago. In Ď39, I went from Chicago to the University of Michigan, and taught mathematics there as an Instructor.
Stern:Just a second, I want to go back over some of the things you said. For example, when did you decide to go into mathematics?
Goldstine:Right away. I think that was my plan when I started at the university.
Stern:So while you were in high school or even earlier you made that decision?
Goldstine:Certainly while I was in high school, I certainly had it in mind that I would study mathematics. Yes.
Stern:There was never interdisciplinary kind of orientation to your early schooling? Because Iíve noticed that about computer people. They often seem to have had an interest in philosophy or engineering or something.
Goldstine:No, I think I knew I was going to be a mathematician. So I donít think that was the problem. I took a number of courses outside of mathematics, but that was just for fun, not --
Stern:-- like what?
Goldstine:I took art history, and I took a course on Gilbert and Sullivan -- I mean, all kinds of things of this sort. Anthropology, economics. I donít remember what all, but you know, they were the sorts of things one took to fill up oneís elective requirements. Also I audited a number of courses. For example, in the time when I was at Chicago, Thornton Wilder was on the faculty. I audited his courses on the DIVINE COMEDY, and I guess on the ODESSEY too. I audited a course that Morris Raphael Cohen and Bertrand Russell gave in philosophy just because they were famous people and it was fun to see them in the flesh and blood, and hear how they sounded. That was the sort of thing I did with my leisure time.
Stern:I know in terms of the story about ballistics and the areas of applied mathematics, that Gilbert Bliss was a very significant figure. What was he like to work with?
Goldstine:Well, he was a very nice person. On the political side, he was a Republican conservative gentleman who lived in the suburbs of Chicago. He was formal but he was very kind to me. I suppose I viewed him like an uncle. He had a suite of three offices. The outer office was the secretarys, the middle office was a formal one in which he used to interview people, or to talk with people on business, and then there was an inner sanctum, the third office, which was the room where we actually worked. We used to start about 9 or 9:30 in the morning, and work essentially till about 5 each evening. Our mode of work largely was of this sort: I would write during the evening -- after work -- drafting the next section of his book, or books, because I helped him also write a book on exterior ballistics. Then Iíd bring my draft of what the next section might look like, and he would then either disregard it in its entirety, or use it as a kind of skeleton, to write what he wanted. We would then argue and debate the resulting revised draft, and write the material again. The final version was the result of this sort of interchange. So that was the kind of collaboration it was.
Stern:This was in the calculus of variations, as well as the exterior ballistics, youíre talking about?
Goldstine:Yes, thatís right. The most important thing to him was the book on calculus of variations since it was a book which marked the culmination of his career. The book was written and finished just about at the time he retired. So, it really represented his last great contribution. He produced the book on exterior ballistics because the war was coming along. He had made a great contribution at Aberdeen during the First World War, and after the First World War he had written some papers which were very significant from the point of view of ballistics, and I think he felt that by writing this book, he would be doing a service to the country. So he was anxious to do it.
Stern:Your dissertation was in the calculus of variations as well?
Goldstine:It was -- yes. I tried to study extremal properties of functions, real-valued functions, defined on abstract spaces. I tried to generalize the calculus of variations, to such spaces -- Banach spaces -- and ones of this sort.
Stern:You only worked with him after you finished your dissertation?
Goldstine:Thatís correct, right.
Stern:The kind of focus at Chicago at this time, would say it represented the new, with respect to this, or more the old?
Goldstine:No. Thatís a good point. There were two schools of thought on the calculus of variations. One of them was a sort of conservative classical school, of which Bliss I think really represented the last important member. And then there was a modern school here at the Institute for Advanced Study, which was headed by Marston Morse. In fact, at one time during that period, and I donít remember the dates but it was in the thirties, Morse visited Bliss, and while he was there he invited me to come here to the Institute for Advanced Study to be his assistant. I debated this attractive offer with myself, and then decided I would stay on and help Bliss finish the book. But itís quite true, Blissís work was classical. It was concerned with the calculus of variations, with properties of extremal curves in the small. Bliss did not see, I think, or appreciate the significance of Morseís ideas, which were connected with properties in the large. Bliss really finished up the classical subject, pretty much. Well, he wound it up at least until modern times, when nowadays I understand things like control theory use the classical calculus of variations, making it once again an important subject. But thatís a good point, that you raised.
Stern:Were there other mathematicians working in this at the time?
Goldstine:Yes, there were. You mean in the calculus of variations?
Stern:Yes, at Chicago.
Goldstine:At Chicago, yes. In fact, Chicago was an unbalanced school at that time. The mathematics department was unbalanced, because there were too many people in the calculus of variations, and too few people in some other important branches of mathematics. There were two subjects in which Chicago in those days was impressive. One was the calculus of variations, and the other was number theory, under Leonard Eugene Dickson. These subjects were taught almost to the exclusion of other things which might better have been taught.
Topology or Morse theory. There was no topology taught at Chicago in those days, even though it could be seen to be a coming, vital subject to mathematics and probably to physics too. I think Chicago was at the end of an era at that time. The department originally had been created by E.H. Moore, whom I mentioned before. It was in its time the most influential department in the United States. Mooreís thesis students included George David Birkhoff, who became the great figure at Harvard; Oswald Veblen, who was a great figure at Princeton, and then later here at the Institute. It included T.H. Hildebrandt, who was the chairman of the department at University of Michigan. Chittenden, who was the chairman at, I think it was Iowa or Iowa State, Iím not sure now. It included R.L. Moore, who was the great figure in mathematics at the University of Texas. And it included many others. The influence of the University of Chicago at that time was probably predominant in the United States. E.H. Moore was still alive when I went to the university in the thirties, but was in poor health. He was a very secretive man; secretive in the sense of not being willing to publish his researches. He was always perfecting his things, and he never quite reached the point where he was willing for them to appear.
He worked on abstract space theory, and could have made a very great contribution to the world if he had published regularly. But instead, he was always throwing away his previous versions, because he saw more elegant ways to do things. And very largely, although unbeknownst to him, he was really in competition with von Neumann, who came a generation later; but he was in competition with him because both of them were trying to discuss operator theory in Hilbert space. His technique for handling Hilbert space was very awkward, compared to the way von Neumann eventually formulated the theory. The result was that when Moore began to study operators, the whole apparatus was so incredibly complicated and constrictive that he never could see how to proceed to unbounded operators, with the result that when von Neumannís theory of Hilbert space came along, it just swept E.H. Moore away -- in fact it swept everybody else away, too. But it meant that the work at Chicago, at least insofar as it related to Hilbert space theory, got washed out when von Neumannís work came along. There were many people at Chicago who had worked in calculus of variations. Bliss represented, as I said, the culmination of all this work.
His book represented his own research plus that of his predecessors, and that ended the field. Dickson had been a great figure in algebra, up until around 1930, at which point he got tired of the subject, and told A. Adrian Albert, who was then a young assistant professor in the mathematics department that he was tired of algebra. He had just finished a book called ALGEBRAS AND THEIR ARITHMETICS, which was kind of classic. At least the German edition was in the subject at the time. He turned the field over to Albert saying he was tired of it, and he was going to work on number theory -- on the Waring conjecture. This is a problem, proposed by an English physician and mathematician back in the 1700ís, which asserts that every number is the sum of four squares, nine cubes, etc. By 1936 -- just about 1936 -- I believe, Dickson retired. At the last spring meeting of the American Mathematical Society, which in those days was always held at the University of Chicago, Dickson had listed as a paper that he was going to present, something entitled, ďAnother Result of Waringís Conjecture,Ē or Waringís Problem, however he phrased it. When he got up to speak, he said, ďMr. Chairman, Iíd like to amend the title of my paper to read, ĎThe Complete Solution to the Waring ProblemĒ -- which was very nice, and everybody cheered and applauded, and Dickson then showed how he had finally finished this problem. But at any rate, the point of all this excursus is that by about 1936, the University of Chicagoís mathematics department had nearly reached the end of the road. Dickson was the first Ph.D. the University of Chicago ever produced at all, and therefore the first in mathematics. Bliss was a man who had got his Ph.D. early on at Chicago too.
So, by Ď36 or thereabouts, the mathematics department at Chicago had gradually gone downhill, to the point where it was just about at its nadir. In fact von Neumann once told me that he felt that the life of any department at the university was one generation, and that one had to do something very important, very profound, in order to give it life for another generation. In fact Chicagoís Math Department continued to sink somewhat after Ď36 and gradually, when Bartky became dean, Hutchins rejuvenated that department, bringing in Marshall Stone, Saunders MacLaine and a number of other people, and it became the great department that it is today.
Stern:You were a student by this period, 1930-36. Were there any graduates that really went out to become illustrious mathematicians?
Goldstine:Thatís what trying to remember. Of course, there were very --
Stern:-- besides yourself, of course.
Iím not trying to duck out of that one. Perhaps the two very best were Adrian Albert and E.J. McShane. Let me try to explain to you Blissís point of view on Ph.D. students. Bliss held the view that the United States was going to need a large number of people who could teach undergraduate mathematics as distinguished from doing research in the field. He knew that there was no degree available other than the Ph.D. So he set as a conscious policy that he was going to produce teachers of mathematics. Accordingly he gave many thesis topics to undergraduate teachers who worked as his students and who came back for summer quarters. These were people who were teachers at schools such as the city colleges of New York. Bliss saw to it that they got Doctorís degrees, even though their main interest was in teaching. He spent, and I helped him, considerable time caring for and nurturing these people to get them through, so that when the time came, there would be an abundance of well-trained teachers. I think Bliss saw, and that was much to his credit, that the population growth had dropped off substantially; but that as the Depression receded, there would be an increase in college attendance. As it turned out, there was a tremendous influx after the war, as we all know.
He couldnít have foreseen that but he could, apparently, foresee the long-term need for teachers. At any rate, that was the situation there, I think the most outstanding people who got Ph.D.ís in mathematics while I was around there was A.A. Albert and E.J. McShane. McShane is now a retired professor at the University of Virginia. Heís written extensively on the calculus of variations and on integration theory. The other was Adrian Albert, who became eventually a Distinguished Service professor of mathematics at Chicago and then the Dean of the Physical Sciences Division. In later years he was a trustee of the Institute for Advanced Study. He also played a big role in the IDA, the Institute for Defense Analysis. He was a very important figure in mathematics and in public policy, particularly as far as mathematics is concerned. Those are the ones that come to my mind at this point.
Stern:One more question about Chicago. You mentioned that Bliss was able to foresee the great need for mathematics that would come in the next generation or so.
Stern:On what did he base that, on the war needs, or on some aspect of mathematics?
Goldstine:No, he couldnít have known about the war needs because this was in the thirties, the mid-thirties, when he was talking about this. I think he sensed the trend for more and more people to insist on getting college educations.
Stern:Just on college in general.
Goldstine:Yes, college in general; I think so. Now, what he based this on, I donít know. The only thing I could conjecture is that he saw that, with increased prosperity in the United States during his lifetime, the whole thrust was for more education for people. I donít remember, when he was a young man, what the obligatory age for attendance at school was, but Iím sure that even in my lifetime, it has moved forward. I think that in those days the junior college was just coming into being. Hence I believe he could have sensed that this was going to be an increasingly important thing.
Stern:I see. After Chicago you went on to the University of Michigan?
Stern:Can you tell me a little about your decision to do that, as opposed to going to the Institute?
Goldstine:Well, actually I had the option of going either to Michigan, and I think the salary was $1800, or to another school, which I didnít think was nearly as good a school of mathematics as Michigan, at $2500; and I decided that I would take the $1800 offer, rather than the $2500 one, which I did, and I never regretted that, either. In those days teaching was a very complicated business. I taught 16 hours a week, which was a horrendous load, and it always consisted of an 8 oíclock, 9 oíclock, 10 oíclock and 11 oíclock class.
Goldstine:Michigan is a kind of curious enclave on Eastern time, sticking into Midwestern time zone, so when you got up in the morning to get to your 8 oíclock class, it was absolutely like the middle of the night. It was very hard, in that way. I enjoyed teaching, and I taught there until the war came along. When I had been a student, the University of Chicago had field artillery ROTC, and I took that, I guess for two reasons. One is, I didnít like gym. The other is, the ROTC in Chicago in those days consisted of horseback riding, which I did like; we rode and we played polo and we did things of that sort. There was another plus to the ROTC, in those days at least. I donít know what things are like now; but they had theoretical courses, for which you got full university credit. They were, you know, absolutely cinch courses, so they helped. I got through Chicago in three years, and one thing that helped me get through in that time was these courses that didnít take any work. So thatís how I was in the ROTC, and when I got out, I got a commission as a second lieutenant in the Reserves. When the war came along, I first got deferred for a while because I was teaching. Then, I guess it was July of Ď42, I got taken into the Army, and for some reason they didnít want people in field artillery at that moment, but they wanted me in the Air Force. I guess it was called the Air Corps at that point. And I was sent to a base in Stockton, California. Simultaneously, Bliss had got in touch with Veblen about me. Veblen at that time was the chief scientist of the Ballistic Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground. He had been --
Stern:-- thereís a lot I want to ask you about that, but I wanted to ask some more questions about Michigan. What was the situation in terms of getting jobs as a mathematician in a university?
Goldstine:Oh, it was very poor. This was the Depression. There were very few jobs. Thatís why there were few people who had Ph.D.ís.
Stern:How did you happen to get this job?
Goldstine:Well, Bliss got it for me. He was very kind to me, and in effect, by having me as his assistant for those years that he did, and for summer jobs, he managed to keep me going financially. He was a good friend of Hildebrandt, the chairman at Michigan. They had gone to Chicago together, and Hildebrandt worked in the same sorts of things that I did. In fact, Hildebrandt and I collaborated on one or two papers. So we knew one another, and I guess Hildebrandt liked what I worked in since he was always nice to me. He got me a couple of raises while I was there and had my teaching load dropped from 16 hours to 15 hours. The job market was just about zero at that period. There were many people whom I knew, who did get degrees, and then just couldnít get jobs.
Stern:Mathematicians, you mean.
Goldstine:Yes. Physicists, mathematicians, you name it. The job market was very poor, much poorer than anything today. People now think itís bad but it was incredibly worse then, because there was absolutely no government support. That really made a difference. The whole economy was terrible. When a person couldnít get a job at that point -- I mean an academic job -- there was no industrial or governmental work. A job, in those days, meant maybe running an elevator or driving a taxicab, or working in a butcher shop or some such thing. It was different from today. To some extent, today, it means people canít get a job in the university they would like, such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Chicago or what not. In those days, it meant you couldnít get a job period. It meant you even get a job in a little girlsí school in Keokuk, Iowa, either. There just werenít jobs. In those days, maybe around one or two jobs would open up each year. Probably in the United States there were only a very modest number -- half a dozen as a guess. So it was a very, very thin market. I guess that answers your question.
Stern:I suppose many had to go to high schools to teach at that time.
Goldstine:I donít think it was very easy to get high school jobs either. I think it was very much as it is today. I think there had been a baby boom after the First World War, just as there was after the Second World War, and lots of people had been hired, in the public and private schools, to cope with that baby boom. That wave then moved through with the velocity that these things do. The Depression saw a drop in children. Maybe there was an improvement in birth control in that period, I donít know. At any rate, there werenít jobs -- many jobs -- in schools. I donít think it was easy to get a job teaching in a public school. For one thing, even in those days, having a Ph.D. didnít qualify one to teach in a public school. You had to have an education or teaching degree of some sort, and I donít know what that entailed. I think very few people, having sweated through a Ph.D., were then willing to go back to college and study to get a teacherís certificate. I think it was just a very bad period.
Stern:Did people tend to view this situation as more of a temporary thing? Today people tend to have the idea, this is the way itís going to be from now on.
Goldstine:Well, thatís the great thing, of course, that Franklin Roosevelt did for the United States. Up to Ď32 when he came in, there was no particular optimism about anything. In many ways, the great thing that Roosevelt did was to bring in a feeling of optimism. You know, there was his theme song ďHappy Days are Here Again.Ē Although that was all a part of the hoopla, it actually did mirror what people were feeling. I think there was a lot more optimism. And then, of course, from our point of view fortunately, the Allies began to buy armaments in the United States, which began to stimulate the business economy of the United States and jobs began to be a little more plentiful. But there were few people, there were very few working for the Ph.D. in mathematics. When I was teaching at Michigan, I can remember, Charles Rickert whoís now a professor at Yale; Jimmy (James) Savage, who was also a professor at Yale. And there was a Chinese named Fan, I think. I donít know what ever happened to him. I think those were the only three students in that period that I remember at Michigan. So there werenít many Ph.D.ís either.
Stern:These were students of yours?
Goldstine:No, I was on their thesis committees. But maybe the whole department at Michigan turned out about that many. Departments were incredibly smaller then than they are today. While Michigan had a big department in those days it probably had a faculty of 20, 30, 40 persons as compared to, at a guess, probably 100 today. The main function of those of us in the department at Michigan then was to teach engineering students. Mathematics was compulsory for engineering students, and that was how the mathematics department earned its bread and butter.
Stern:Just basic courses were taught?
Goldstine:Just basic courses. Another thing Hildebrandt did for me was to get me out of teaching those cursed undergraduate courses, and got me a graduate course to teach.
Goldstine:I donít remember now. Thatís the trouble. Itís too long ago. It wasnít anything very exciting, but it was better than dull courses. Because if you taught two courses in analytical geometry and then two courses in calculus in a row, the excitement was pretty low, you know. But it was the way one lived. That was typical, because both in mathematics and in physics, for that matter, this was the period in which there was no government money. There was virtually no private money. So research was what you did on your own. You were expected to do it, if you were going to get promoted or even kept on. You jolly well had to do research. But there was no money. I mean, there was no money for students. There was no money for secretaries, for trips, for anything. So everything you did was on your own, and I know in my case at least, the summer was the time that I really used to do whatever I was going to do. Something about that came into my mind, but I canít think what it is. Anyway, if it comes back Iíll tell you about it. But at any rate, this was just at the beginning of the change in the governmentís attitude towards research, in terms of massive government funding of projects and individuals and all the rest of it. The one or two things that did happen, happened under the auspices of agencies such as the American Mathematical Society. Actually the first time I met von Neumann was at such an affair. The Society organized a symposium on Modern Theories of Integration, and it was sponsored by the University of Michigan. It was a weekís symposium, to which all the leading figures were invited, and the Society asked me to be the rapporteur. I was therefore expected to write a one or two page account of each of the talks -- each talk being a few hourís lecture. One talk that I can remember with particular clarity was by Norbert Wiener. I remember that because it was the only talk which was so bad that neither I nor Hildebrandt nor anybody else who was in the audience could make anything out of it; it was just an absolute disaster for me to have to try to write a page or so account of this talk.
Stern:What was it on?
Goldstine:I donít even remember. Well, it was supposed to be something about integration theory, but it was such a rambling thing, it was so obvious that Weiner had done no work in putting it together. I donít think it was just my fault. Of course, thereís always that possibility. I would have felt that way, perhaps, if it hadnít been that a half dozen other people were in the same boat as I was. They just didnít know either what he was talking about. And this was a subject I knew a lot about, because Iíd written a number of papers on integration theory. But the other person I can remember very clearly was von Neumann, who gave a superb, beautiful lecture, in the way he invariably did. It also was hard to write up because, like all von Neumannís lectures, one always fell into the trap of sitting there just listening to this beautiful presentation, which seemed so tremendously lucid and clear and easy that one didnít bother to take notes. It was only after one got home and tried to recreate the material that one realized that he had missed the essence. So that was a lot of work, too, but it was an absolutely gorgeous lecture. I met von Neumann then. He actually didnít meet me. It was one of these things where he shook hands with me, but Iím sure he had no recollection of it at all.
Stern:When was it?
Well, it was some time before Ď42, thatís all I know. Ď40, Ď41. I donít know. I would have to look in THE BULLETIN of the Math Society to see when that really was. But that was an interesting encounter for me, because it really made it very clear to me what a superb mathematician von Neumann was. Everything connected with that talk of his was just an order of magnitude better than others which never were however very good. And at any rate, thatís the beginning of that. Letís see, what else? I started to tell you about Veblen. During the First World War, the ballistics work in the United States government had been divided up between Washington, D.C. and what in those days, at the very beginning, was the Sandy Hook Proving Ground, which was located at the end of Sandy Hook Harbor. Presumably that was one of the harbor defenses of the United States in an earlier era. Now, the Washington office of the Ordnance Department was the dominant office. That was the office of whatís called the Chief of Ordnance, the boss of the Ordnance Department. In the First World War, the man who was, so to speak, the chief scientist for the Ordnance Department was an astronomer named Forest Ray Moulton, who had been professor of astronomy at the University of Chicago. He had a number of brothers, as a matter of fact, one of whom was professor mathematics at Northwestern University, and a brother, Harold, who may have been the founder of the Brookings Institution. It was apparently a distinguished family. At any rate, at Aberdeen, the leadership in ballistics fell to Oswald Veblen, who was in uniform as a captain and then later a major, I think, in the Ordnance Department. In the early days, about 1902 or Ď03, when Woodrow Wilson became president of Princeton, he had the idea of forming a group of people who were called preceptors.
Among the people that he brought here to Princeton, probably the most famous mathematicians were George David Birkhoff, Gilbert Bliss and Oswald Veblen. I think Henry Norris Russell, who was a great leader in astronomy, was also a preceptor. Birkhoff stayed here for a while, and then got a call to become professor of mathematics at Harvard. There is correspondence at Chicago or here, I forget where I saw it, in which he asked advice as to what he should do. He decided Harvard was the place where he would go. Veblen stayed at Princeton, and Bliss went to Chicago. When the Institute for Advanced Study was first founded, the first two professors were Einstein and Veblen. Veblen played an absolutely decisive role, both at Princeton University and at the Institute for Advanced Study. In fact his contribution in establishing great mathematics departments at both places was probably greater than any personís. I think thatís probably why there are superb departments at both institutions.
Stern:Veblen had connections with the Ballistic Research Lab during World War II, did he not?
Goldstine:Yes. Since he was still alive and very active, he was invited to become the chief scientist. It was his great contribution in the Second World War, to recruit a first class group of scientists -- not just mathematicians but scientists in general. In general he did a superb job of this. For example, he brought into the laboratory Edwin Hubble and Martin Schwarzschild, both of whom are first class astronomers. Rubble is dead now, but Schwarzschild is still alive and very active here in Princeton. Schwarzschild left in Proving Ground after a relatively short while, because he was very anxious to fight Germans and didnít want just to do scientific work. His father had been professor of astronomy and head of the observatory at Gottingen, and so was in a great tradition going back to Gauss. But Martin, as I say, wanted to be out in the field. In addition, letís see, who else? There were many people. For example, Gregory Breit was one of the people Veblen brought to Aberdeen. He brought many scientists including mathematicians into the place.
Stern:Mathematicians and astronomers, then for the most part?
Goldstine:No, he brought a lot of physicists too. Well, Breit is an example. I was trying to think of who else. Thomas, Llewellyn Hileth Thomas.
Goldstine:He brought Leland Cunningham to Aberdeen. I forgot about that. Another one he brought in, perhaps even more well known, was Ted (Theodore E.) Sterne. Theodore E. Sterne from Harvard. And there were just lots of people. He must have brought in 50 or 75 people, maybe more. Perhaps the most exciting thing he did, in some ways, was to form a Scientific Advisory Committee to the Director of the Ballistic Research Laboratory. That was a committee of very impressive scientists to insure the excellence of the work that was done at Aberdeen. I can remember some of the names of the people. There was, for example, I.I. Rabi. He was a very impressive figure there. He still is. George Kistiakowsky, whoís another impressive scientist. Johnny von Neumann. A man from General Electric named Albert Hull who was most impressive. Well, I donít know exactly what his total contribution to GE was, but he had an influence on the development of the magnetron, and he was just a superb experimentalist. He could look at something and tell you how the experiment should be done. He had just a tremendous feeling for this sort of thing. Let me see who else. There was Hugh Dryden who was a superb aerodynamicist in the government. There was Bernard Lewis, of the National Bureau of Mines. He knew a great deal about explosives. Joe Mayer, the physical chemist and others.
Stern:You came to the Ballistic Research Lab in 1943, was it?
Goldstine:Ď42, I guess.
Stern:The decision with respect to the ENIAC was made in April of Ď43. Is that correct?
Stern:Now, from my readings of the documents, it seems to me that that decision was made rather quickly.
Yes, it was made very quickly. If I may back up a bit, during the period between wars, Vannevar Bush had developed what was called the differential analyzer. This was a realization of an idea that Lord Kelvin had had, but didnít succeed in building, because he lacked a technological part, namely, a means of amplifying the torque or the output of an integrator. (This whole tradition of integrators really goes back to Kelvin and Maxwell.) But at any rate, Vannevar Bush had the wit to see that development by some man -- I forget his name now -- which had a key role in the steel industry, was applicable to the differential analyzer, and he made a working machine. Both the people at Aberdeen and at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania saw the great use that each of them could make, using such a machine. In the case of the Moore School, electrical engineering had progressed by that time, the early thirties, far enough so that engineers were able to write down with a certain amount of facility, differential equations which would describe the behavior of electrical circuits. Their big problem was to integrate these equations. As a result of the work of Bliss, Moulton, Veblen and others, in the first World War, the people at Aberdeen were able to write down the differential equations for motion of projectiles. Their problem also was to integrate the equations. So, when the Bush machine first appeared, both Aberdeen and the University of Pennsylvania went to Bush and asked to be allowed to make copies of his machine.
He put the two groups together, and somehow they collaboratively produced two sister machines. The result was that when the war broke out, the people at Aberdeen turned immediately to the Moore School and rented their machine for the duration of the war. They also were having great difficulty in recruiting people to work at Aberdeen, because it is not close to any city. It is perhaps 40 or 50 miles out of Baltimore, and even further out of Philadelphia, and so it was very difficult to get people to work there. The Army didnít have adequate housing for its civilian employees and so the director of the laboratory formed a substation at the University of Pennsylvania, where the Moore School organized what were in those days ESMWT courses -- Engineering, Science and Management War Training. Lots of universities were teaching such courses to retrain people for useful war work. When I got to Aberdeen, which was in the summer of Ď42, I was taken to Philadelphia by Col. Paul N. Gillon who was in charge of the part of the Ballistic Research Laboratory which handled all the calculational work. We looked at the training program that was going on at the university, and it was a disaster. I shouldnít call it a disaster, but it was. The courses were being taught by some old gentlemen who had been retired for years from the teaching of mathematics. They were really just too old and too tired. Moreover the administration of the differential analyzer group hadnít yet been worked out very well, and the Armyís relations with the university hadnít either. It was clear that what Aberdeen needed was somebody to be in charge of the Philadelphia substation. Fortunately (from my point of view) I was picked to be the man. Thatís how I got related to the University of Pennsylvania. I then spent virtually my whole time at Pennsylvania, with a few periods in which I did some other things for Aberdeen. We turned the training program around at the university. We brought in my first wife, Adele, then John Mauchlyís first wife Nary, and Mildred the wife of a professor of Sumerology, Samuel N. Kramer. Adele, Mary and Mildred, formed our basic faculty.
Stern:What is the relationship between this training youíre talking about and the ESMWT?
Goldstine:These were the teachers for the ESMWT courses.
Stern:Now, those courses included electronics courses too?
Goldstine:No. There were also electronics courses at the Moore School. But our courses were dedicated to training programmers.
Stern:The human computers.
Goldstine:The human computers. Sorry, I said programmers, but at this time the word didnít exist.
Stern:Aside from the obvious reasons about wartime needs, why was it that almost exclusively women who were hired for those positions? Or was the war the main reason?
Goldstine:You know -- I donít know. Itís a good question that you ask. We never, as far as Iím aware, had an applicant who was not a woman. I think it was just like, perhaps, bricklayers, you know. You always see men in those jobs. Or you used to anyway. Maybe there are women now. Well, I did see in the newspaper just yesterday or the day before about a couple of women who run a house painting business. But I mean, that was an era in which there were jobs that were menís, and there were jobs that were womenís.
Stern:This was then viewed as a kind of clerical thing? Would that be an explanation?
Yes, I guess thatís right. I donít think it was something admirable. There were some men working at Aberdeen, in lower administrative jobs, having risen up from of being computers. But in general, the computer did dull work. To do numerical integration or numerical calculation of almost any sort, is inordinately dull. Itís like doing your income tax every day of your life, from morning till night. And so, I think youíre right. I think it was a kind of job which a man would not willingly go into, and therefore, the vacuum was filled by girls. Philadelphia turned out to be a good place. The original intention of the management at Aberdeen was to train the girls in Aberdeen and ship them from Philadelphia to the Proving Ground, but in fact, virtually none of them would go. So, what I did was to build up a group of a couple of hundred of them in Philadelphia where they lived. That worked happily. There was a small group, a subset of that bigger group which I organized to run the differential analyzer, and they were a very good group.
Those, plus the best of the people who did the hand calculating, formed the group out of which we chose the first programmers for the ENIAC. One of those was the woman who became the second Mrs. Mauchly. (The first Mrs. Mauchly died tragically by drowning. They were vacationing at the shore somewhere, and she drowned.) But at any rate, that was the beginning of the computer business at the Moore School. The next thing was related to the Dean of the Moore School. The Moore School in those days was a semi-autonomous unit of the University of Pennsylvania. If I understood it correctly, it had its own endowment and its own board of trustees, and had a kind of nominal relationship to the University. Subsequently it became an integral part of the University, but in those days, the Dean of the Moore School was a real potentate. His name was Harold Pender. Pender was a Southerner from North Carolina who had received his Ph.D. in France under Poincare, I think. (I know I was always conscious of being amazed that he had had this kind of an education, because it was such an improbable one for an engineer.) At any rate, the big thing that he did was to found the International Resistance Corporation, IRC, which made very superior resistors. In those days, so far as Iím aware, there were just really two big companies in America that made them, Allen Bradley and IRC. And I guess each of them was a small company, selling parts largely to radio hams until the war came along.
Stern:I was curious about April, Ď43, that the initial memoranda that you suggested he write up took almost no time to be approved by the Army.
Stern:Was that an unusual thing during the war?
Goldstine:Well, I canít really answer that question, because my experience was limited to a small subset, you know, of the military. I think the situation was like this. Paul Gillon was an extremely competent, energetic officer, who understood a great deal about technical matters. He had been a student at the University of Michigan, at West Point, and then at MIT. He knew a lot, and he was a person who, if he put his faith in you, he put it in unreservedly. He didnít just go 50 percent of the way, and then make life miserable. He was convinced that the computing load at the Proving Ground was not going to be eased by any change of factors of two or three, or things like that. He saw that what really was needed was something like an order of magnitude, and he was prepared to go forward with almost anything, if it was only reasonable. I believe he formed a high opinion of Brainerd and of me. He was prepared to back that opinion. He was also a West Point graduate. The one thing that I admired during the war was how very effectively the Old Boysí Club of West Pointers operated. It was a beautiful thing to watch. These men trusted each other, or at least they knew what von Neumann used to call the ďmendacity factorĒ of each one of their colleagues. They knew how much to trust each person, and if they believed in a man, as convinced they believed in Gillon, there were no problems about getting money and approvals. The normal military tempo was slow, as all government bureaucracies are. The reason this thing went very fast was because Gillon was immediately convinced by us. He had been looking quite hard for a solution to the computing problem at Aberdeen and to solve it had brought the Moore School into the picture. It was he who put me there. He was determined to do something to break this log jam, and it took very little persuading of Gillon that something dramatic should be done, and here was a dramatic possibility. The amounts involved are really minute, compared to the total expenditure of the Ordnance Department per year.
Stern:Your role and Brainerdís role seem to me to be focal, because Mauchly had this proposal eight months before.
Of course. Of course. One of the things youíve got to realize is that Mauchly was never a person who was good at persuading other people. Mauchlyís whole career, I think, has always been almost one of a dilettante. Iím not using the term necessarily in a pejorative way. Iím just trying really to describe his career. I think, if you look through the standard journals, in physics and in electrical engineering, youíll find few papers written by Mauchly. My guess is that there arenít a half dozen. Some years ago there was a famous probability theory man at Princeton University named Sam Wilks who knew Mauchly for many years. Wilks said Mauchly would occasionally drive down here, and spend the day talking to Wilks about his ideas on applying methods of statistics and probability theory to meteorology, and then would just disappear, and nothing would come out of it in the form of a paper. This is just not, as you know, the normal academic method. And again, Iím not saying this in any disrespect of Mauchlyís abilities. Iím merely commenting that he was not a person who was good at starting something and seeing it through to fruition. In fact, to the contrary, he was bad at that. Thatís his great weakness.
I think thatís why Mauchly could have written many proposals to no effect because he always did them perhaps to entertain himself. I think they were an end in themselves. I mean, for him to reach the conclusion that one could do something probably satisfied him. Brainerd was a much more responsible, more mature, engineer. Well, in fact Mauchly was not an engineer. Mauchly is a physicist, and I donít say that disrespectfully either. I mean, his thing was not seeing projects through, but rather to have bright ideas. Brainerd looked at it differently. I think perhaps that it would be better to talk to him than to me, because I donít know what goes on in his head or anybody elseís head. But at any rate, once it got to us, I think as you say it went very rapidly, because there was very little argument. There was no doubt in my mind that it was only by a change of one or more orders of magnitude in computing speed that Aberdeen would get out of the hole it was in. I had very considerable respect in fact for Brainerd. I also had a very high opinion of Eckert, and I think it was these things which made it seem reasonable to me to get Gillon excited, to get the funding and go ahead. And as I say, it wasnít a big financial matter for the government.