A Special Place in SIAM History for ENIAC

December 7, 1999


John Mauchly, fourth SIAM President

The construction of the ENIAC, writes William Aspray in the accompanying review, "is one of the signal events in computing history." In fact, the ENIAC, its creators, and the circumstances of its creation are also central to SIAM's history. It's no coincidence that SIAM's upcoming 50th anniversary (2002) follows the ENIAC's by not too many years.

John Mauchly, shown here as he appears in a lineup that now occupies an entire wall at SIAM headquarters, was the fourth president of SIAM (1956); his predecessors were William Bradley, Donald Houghton, and Harold Kuhn. A physicist who taught at Ursinus College, Mauchly had a long-standing interest in weather prediction, which, as Aspray explains, is what led to his collaboration at the University of Pennsylvania with J. Presper Eckert on an electronic computer.

In addition to his conceptual role in the creation of the ENIAC, says SIAM founder I.E. Block, Mauchly worked with James Kelly to develop the critical path method for scheduling. CPM is a methodology implemented on computers to identify the "critical" events that must take place on schedule in massive development projects to ensure their on-time completion. Modern versions of the method are widely used today in the construction industry. In this work, Block points out, Mauchly was typical of early SIAM members, many of whom were developing the mathematics and software needed to solve problems in industry.

During his SIAM presidency, Mauchly was head of the Univac Applied Research Center of the Remington Rand Univac Division of Sperry Rand, Inc. In those early days, Block recalls, Univac employees played an important role in SIAM. Many were members, and some were speakers at the earliest SIAM meetings. Grace Hopper, head of English-language programming at Univac and a colleague of Mauchly's, was a member of the SIAM Council. Operations researcher and math-ematician Joseph Harrison and Block wrote the original SIAM bylaws in the evening hours at Eckert and Mauchly's company, the predecessor of Univac. It was during those sessions that Block met Mauchly and got him interested in SIAM. With Mauchly's encouragement, Remington Rand later became a corporate member of SIAM.

As president, Mauchly presided over the meetings of the SIAM Council. Considering that a large percentage of SIAM members in those days were mathematics and computing professionals in industry, Block says that Mauchly was a good fit for the SIAM presidency. Meetings of the Council were relatively short, Block recalls, and most of the work of building SIAM "was the result of ad hoc thinking (and doing) by a small group of volunteers."

"Mauchly was as affable and modest as anyone I have known . . . an idea man who conceptualized well," Block says. "I remember him in that way when he presided over the SIAM Council. I also remember him for his reputation at Ursinus as the roller-skating teacher who went out of his way to help students."


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