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The National Applied Mathematics Laboratories of the National Bureau of Standards: A Progress Report Covering the First Five Years of Its Existence

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129591D
Original Publication Date: 1988-Mar-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06

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Software Patent Institute

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On 1 July 1947, a new mathematics division was set up in the National Bureau of Standards. It was named the National Applied Mathematics Laboratories (NAML), the thought being that within certain limits it would serve as a mathematical center for the federal government. The idea for such a center seems to have originated within the Navy. Probably the first thinking on the subject was done by Professor Howard H. Aiken of Harvard University, who was an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve during the war and who was already famous for his pioneering work in the field of automatic computation. Later the idea was developed and actively sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and its predecessor organizations. In the early spring of 1946, the Chief of Naval Research suggested to Dr. Edward U. Condon, then Director of the National Bureau of Standards, that he should consider trying to give reality to the concept. Dr. Condon accepted the suggestion enthusiastically, and the NAML was the result. The 12 months immediately preceding 1 July 1947 were spent in drawing up careful plans for the organization in cooperation with various federal agencies, particularly ONR. The plans were given wide circulation: a Prospectus, dated February 1947, was distributed to various interested offices within the Government. The Prospectus was detailed: in addition to describing the mission, structure and functions of the proposed organization, it provided a list of promising projects, together with staffing and budgetary requirements of the component units. An abstract of the Prospectus was published in Science (1948) under the title, ";A Federal Program in Applied Mathematics.";

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

The National Applied Mathematics Laboratories of the National Bureau of Standards: A Progress Report Covering the First Five Years of Its Existence


with an explanatory note by Churchill Eisenhart

(Image Omitted: *Curtiss was then Chief of the National Applied Mathematics Laboratories of the National Bureau of Standards, a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.)

Categories and Subject Descriptors: K.2 [Computing Milieux]: History of Computing -- hardware, people, software, systems, theory. C.1 [Mathematics of Computation]: Numerical Analysis. General Terms: Management, Standardization. Additional Terms: National Bureau of Standards, NAML, INA, UNIVAC, SEAC, SWAC.

An Explanatory Note

It must be extremely rare that a manuscript's high quality prevents its timely publication. Such was the case, however, with J. H. Curtiss's "The National Applied Mathematics Laboratories of the National Bureau of Standards: A Progress Report Covering the First Five Years of Its Existence," dated April 1, 1953.* It was submitted soon thereafter to the NBS Editorial Committee for publication in one of the NBS publication media. The senior staff of the NBS Applied Mathematics Division were stunned when the manuscript and Editorial Record card were returned to the Division Office without the requisite release for publication signed by Director Allen V. Astin, arid without explanation. All of us were puzzled by what we interpreted to be the manuscript's "rejection." Dr. Astin was so busy with the "Kelley Committee" appointed in April 1953 by the Secretary of Commerce "to evaluate the present functions and operations of the National Bureau of Standards in relation to present national needs" that no explanation of the presumed "rejection" was immediately forthcoming. Consequently, the matter of publication of this manuscript was put aside for the time being, especially since John Curtiss had left the Bureau's employment for a Senior Scientist position in New York University's Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

The "for the time being" dragged on for two decades, with no explanation volunteered by Dr. Astin, and "top brass" of the Applied Mathematics Division were reluctant ("afraid"?) to ask Dr. Astin for an explanation of his "rejection" of this manuscript. Finally, about 1975, in a conversation with Dr. Astin on other matters -- Astin had retired as NBS Director in 1969 -- I asked why Astin had "rejected" John Curtiss's manuscript. Dr. Astin was noticeably shaken by the question, and replied essentially as follows: "It has never been published? Oh my gracious! I never intended to 'reject' it, but to simply defer its publication. It was so very very good that I feared that, if it were published while the Kelley Committee was reviewing our functions and operations, they...