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Comments, Queries, and Debate: New York Mathematical Tables Project Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129586D
Original Publication Date: 1989-Dec-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 3 page(s) / 18K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

H. E. Salzer: AUTHOR [+2]


941 Washington Avenue Brooklyn, New York 11225

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Copyright ©; 1989 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Comments, Queries, and Debate: New York Mathematical Tables Project

H. E. Salzer

941 Washington Avenue Brooklyn, New York 11225

In 1938 the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), under the directorship of Dr. Lyman J. Briggs, sponsored a Work Projects Administration (WPA) project for the computation of mathematical tables, which was headed by Dr. Arnold N. Lowan. It was best known, through several changes in name, as the New York Mathematical Tables Project.

Initially there were several hundred completely untrained, pencil- pushing workers chosen from the rolls of the unemployed on relief, who were supervised by a planning staff of some half- dozen nonrelief personnel having the necessary technical background. With the termination of WPA at the end of 1942, when a large number of the project's workers and some supervisors became part of the New York Hydrographic Office, Department of the Navy, the hard core of the technical staff was augmented by some two dozen newly recruited workers; they were to continue as part of the NBS until the New York Mathematical Tables Project was terminated in 1949. The "analytic continuation" of the New York project was the Computation Laboratory in Washington, D.C., which was only one of the four divisions of NBS's National Applied Mathematics Laboratories, whose chief was Dr. Jonn H. Curtiss. The computation Laboratory under the immediate supervision of John Todd and Dr. Franz Alt went on to produce more tables, do research and development in computational mathematics, and perform many needed services for other governmental agencies.

In its 11 1/2 years from early 1938 to mid-1949, the New York project was something very special in the history of computation. It represented the epitome in magnitude and productivity of the computing establishments of that era. In view of the revolutionary developments in computation since 1949, the New York Mathematical Tables Project in its heyday appears now as resembling an extinct species of computational dinosaur, enormous in size but with an extremely small and primitive brain. Yet it produced many books of tables of elementary and higher mathematical functions (in current use everywhere) as well as shorter tables in scientific reports and journals; performed numerous computational services for many governmental scientific and technical agencies, including vital services for the military during the war years of 1942-1945; assisted physicists, statisticians, mathematicians, engineers, and other professional workers; maintained long-lasting liaisons with numerous computing groups in the United States and Great Britain; and helped many individuals who were leading scientists from various fields with advice and assistance on their computational problems.

Through its existence the project lived up...