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Biographies: Carl Hammer

Pages: pp. 81-86

Carl Hammer (1914–2004)



When we use the term computer pioneers, we are usually thinking about the creators of important hardware or software. Pres Eckert personifies the former and Grace Hopper epitomizes the latter. For a computer industry to emerge, however, more was needed: early users needed to be able to exchange information and share lessons learned. Carl Hammer was a pioneer in many ways, but he was foremost an organizer and a tireless promoter of computing. He was a man who gave of his time and talents so that others could learn about this new and fascinating tool, the digital computer.

Carl Hammer probably spoke at more professional meetings and delivered more lectures than any member of his generation. He was fellow of the IEEE, Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), American Association for the Advancement of Science, New York Academy of Science, and the World Organization of General Systems and Cybernetics. He received distinguished service awards from ACM and the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, the Chester Morrill Memorial Award from Association for Systems Management, and was named the 1973 Man of the Year by the Data Processing Management Association.

As a graduate student in 1969, I took Carl's seminar in computer systems applications. Carl was an adjunct professor at the American University's Center for Technology and Administration. He was an incredibly engaging seminar leader, and we became friends when I sought his advice before starting my PhD program. This article is based on more than 200 pages of notes that Carl prepared in the early 1990s, his writings, and materials he donated to the Charles Babbage Institute. Especially valuable were the oral history done by James Ross Baker and J.A.N. Lee's Computer Pioneers. 1

Early years

Hammer was born in Chicago, Illinois, on 10 May 1914, to Karl and Kaethe Hammer, who had emigrated from Germany in 1912 in search of a better future. His father worked at Piery & Scott, a well-known department store; his mother supplemented the family income by giving piano lessons. At the end of World War I, his parents decided to separate. Mrs. Hammer took her son back to her hometown of Starnberg, a small community about 20 kilometers south of Munich (Bavaria).

After four years of elementary school in Starnberg, Carl entered the Realschule at Landsberg am Lech where he lived in a dormitory. Although English was the prescribed language, Carl learned to read, write, and speak both English and German. His favorite subject was analytic geometry: "My teacher taught me the meaning of the complex plane (after school) and I had lots of fun filling up graph notebooks with all sorts of strange curves." 2 Because Carl had made good grades during his five years in Landsberg, his family decided to enroll him in the Luitpold Oberrealschule—a prestigious institution in Munich. Luitpold had a number of student clubs, and it was in one of these that Carl was first exposed to cryptology—a field that fascinated him all his life.

In spring 1933, Carl graduated with advanced standing from Luitpold and was accepted at the University of Munich to study applied mathematics. He studied under some legendary professors, including Oskar Perrons and Heinrich Tietze. Werner Heisenberg was a guest lecturer. Because he had advanced standing, he graduated in two years. Though many in Hammer's circle foresaw the threat of war, he correctly believed he would have time to complete his studies. Thus, Carl entered the PhD program for mathematical statistics and probability theory with minor concentrations in engineering and astronomy. Carl finished his studies and returned to the US in late August 1938.

A first job

His first job was at the Beacon Laboratories of Texaco Corporation in New York: "I was hired to assist with such math-stat jobs as analyzing experimental results, developing organized plans for experimental analysis, the standardization of experiments, etc." 3 One of his first assignments was to calculate a new set of viscosity tables. For this job, Carl purchased a Frieden desk calculator with 10-10-20 digit capacity and a square root enhancement for about $1,100. 4 In spring 1942, Carl was asked to teach a bilingual crash course in scientific German and English for the professional staff at the US Military Academy. With the approval of his managers at Texaco, Carl began his teaching career, working at Beacon in the mornings and traveling to West Point for a 4-hour afternoon class each day for six weeks.

In 1944, Carl moved to New York City where he had accepted a position as a statistical clerk with Pillsbury Mills. Based on his statistical background, and some research papers published by the Rand Corporation, Carl used linear programming techniques to improve the management of the shipping process. 5 To supplement his income, Carl was also a part-time instructor at the Pratt Institute. In early 1944, Carl met Thelma Jeannette George, a model and chief designer for Ritter Brothers fur salon. They were married in New York City, at the Little Church Around the Corner, on 23 September 1944.

Carl left Pillsbury to become chairman of Technical Education at Walter Hervey Junior College, a branch of the YMCA Schools of New York. In this position, he supervised the technical curriculum: from math and physics to electronics, as well as visiting potential (student) employers and evaluating student progress. He also began teaching part-time at Hunter College. Immediately after the war, Walter Hervey had a flood of students—most were former service members studying under the GI Bill. By 1951, however, the flood had become a trickle. The YMCA put the faculty on a part-time basis and stopped accepting students. 6

Hammer arranged to have his Walter Hervey classes in the mornings and accepted a job at Columbia University's Bureau of Applied Social Research. "The Columbia University opening had been an absolute coincidence. The Bureau's Director was Professor Paul Lazarsfeld, whom I had met a few years earlier while I was making the rounds." 7 Carl worked on statistical forecasts of population growth and the industrial infrastructure. In this effort, he became a believer and user of Wassily Leontief's input/output analysis model and adapted it to the bureau's projects (Leontief won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1973). "We came to the startling conclusion that all the USSR data on industrial production was grossly inflated. That was news then." 7

Reflecting on the collegial atmosphere of the Scientific Computing Laboratory, Carl observed:

In those days … the applications and even early programs were all in the public domain. … everybody that had written a program that was useful gave it to his friends and they gave it to their friends … Of course there was no guarantee that they were foolproof or correct. 8

Working three jobs to make ends meet, however, wasn't a viable long-term strategy, so Carl found a consulting job at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. One of his first projects was desk-checking scientific subroutines for Engineering Research Associates (ERA). Another project gave him the opportunity to work with Grace Murray Hopper, who headed one of two major software departments at Remington-Rand Univac. (To minimize confusion, I will use UNIVAC to indicate hardware and Univac to indicate the corporation.) Carl worked on a project to improve the Norden bomb sight—an analog computer—and worked on scientific subroutines for the ERA 1101 and 1103 computers. He also helped I. Edward Block, Donald Haughton, and Donald Hay in founding the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and served as its treasurer in 1955. 9

The early computer industry

Remington Rand was planning on opening a UNIVAC I Computer Center in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and Hammer interviewed for, and got, the job as its first director. In August 1956, Carl and Jeannette moved to Kronberg, a suburb of Frankfurt. His staff consisted of Heinrich Poesch, engineering manager; Karl-Heinz Buchner, software manager; and Gerhard Overhoff, marketing manager. The disassembled UNIVAC I central processing unit (CPU), along with 10 tape units, the power supply, a small printer, and an assortment of Unitypers, Uniprinters, spare parts, and engineering supplies arrived via Seaboard and Western Airlines. The installation of the UNIVAC I—in space provided by the Battelle Institute—was completed on 18 October 1956, with a dedication the following day. Early applications were written in assembly language or in the A-2 compiler language. 10

Carl's ability to speak German and English provided him with numerous opportunities to introduce computers to organizations throughout Europe, including the UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and the Scandinavian countries: 11

I gave a large number of seminars in those days … (spending) at least a third of my time away from the Center. In the early years, of course … we used loose language: "The computer can do anything. It may take some time. It might take us a year or two to program it." Those were the pioneering days and the computer … was still a gee-whiz thing. 5

By the end of April 1957, the UNIVAC European Computer Center was running smoothly, and its operations were turned over to a German team.

When he returned to the US in 1957, Carl took a job with Sylvania Electronic Products in Needham, Massachusetts. Sylvania used a UNIVAC I in support of its defense business, and had a contract to design, develop, and deliver a state-of-the-art mobile computer for the US Army Signal Corps to support the distribution of intelligence around the battlefield—known as the Fieldata project. This project used a computer housed in a large trailer, known as MOBIDIC (for mobile digital computer). 12 Carl created scientific models for MOBIDIC intelligence applications and worked on other Sylvania projects such as the Universal Digital Operational Flight Trainer and the KX3, an encryption device used by government agencies. 13

Because he preferred the world of high-tech government contracts, Carl accepted a position with RCA at the end of 1959. While waiting for a security clearance, Carl researched digital and analog networks, and with Halina Montvila prepared an extensive annotated bibliography in the form of a 100-page monograph, which was widely distributed throughout RCA. 14 As a senior engineering scientist at RCA, Carl worked on the design of a digital command-and-control network for the Minuteman missile under a subcontract from Boeing Aircraft. It was at this time that RCA decided to enter the digital computer market. Hammer worked on software projects for the RCA 301 and published a number of internal monographs on special applications. 15 Although there was much to like in the collegial atmosphere of RCA, Hammer realized that RCA would not succeed in the computer field, and began looking for another job.

Sperry Univac

After meeting with Univac Washington Vice President Leland E. (Lee) Johnson, Carl agreed to join Sperry Univac Federal Government Marketing in Washington, D.C., on 2 January 1963, as director of Computer Sciences.

Along with his other activities, such as participating in the conceptual design committee for a new computer (UNIVAC 1108), Carl developed, and distributed widely, a monthly report that summarized important developments within Univac, along with a list of high-level marketing contacts. 16 This monthly report, however, was only one facet of this extremely organized man. Carl kept a daily diary of his activities: "I have an unbroken set of diaries on a daily basis … like engineering diaries and I record times, dates, telephone numbers, people, (and) important calls." 17

To prepare for the marketing of the UNIVAC 1108, members of the Marketing Division fanned out across the US to talk to existing and potential customers. One of the first prospects for the new machine was United Airlines (UAL), which wanted to develop an airline reservation system to compete with the Sabre System that IBM had developed for American Airlines. 18 Lee Johnson had designed a punched-card-based system for Capitol Airlines and Capitol had been bought by UAL, thus giving Johnson an entrée to UAL management. Although many people worked on the proposal, it was Carl who made the presentation to UAL management. 19 On 15 December 1965, Univac received notice that it had won the UAL contract for $39 million. 20 Unfortunately, this project encountered severe difficulties and it was cancelled. 21

In the early 1950s Hammer had joined Toastmasters at the invitation of Ed Thelen, a research chemist: "My classroom presentation style became professional speaking." 22 Public speaking became an ever more important part of his professional life. From 1963 onward, Carl used his experience and speaking skills to promote Univac:

Once these people found out that I was a relatively good speaker at scientific chapter meetings or annual society events, I could select those which offered the greatest ROI (return on investment) of my time and Univac's funds. 23

Carl spoke to the Univac Japanese Users Association in May 1972. In his "A Forecast of Computation," 1,000 people heard his thoughts about future hardware, software, and "brain-ware." 24 Following the conference, Carl made a lecture tour of major Japanese cities sponsored by Nippon Univac Kaisha, the Japanese Univac Users Association.

In the 1970s, Sperry Univac maintained an international executive center in Rome, Italy. Villa "Les Aigles" was used as a meeting place for senior European managers from government, industry, and academia. An annual highlight was the Point of View (POV) meeting. In 1973, the meeting opened with Senator Eugene McCarthy discussing "A Statesman's Estimate of the World of the 70s and the Decisions Facing the World." 25 Hammer followed with a presentation on "The Electronic Computer and Its Role in the Modern World." 26 After the afternoon speakers finished, the day ended with a Fireside Chat called "An Informal After-Dinner Talk by the Co-Inventor of the First Electronic Digital Computer" by John W. Mauchly (see Figure 1). 27

Graphic: Carl introducing John Mauchly at the Fireside Chat. (Courtesy of Charles Babbage Inst., Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis.)

Figure 1   Carl introducing John Mauchly at the Fireside Chat. (Courtesy of Charles Babbage Inst., Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis.)

Within Univac, Carl had become a goodwill ambassador, traveling to Univac offices around the globe, to lecture and provide technical advice. He also lectured at the US State Department, the FBI Academy, the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, to audiences at more than a dozen federal agencies, and to other private and public organizations. Indeed, he reflected that during his heyday, he gave an average of two lectures a week, or more than 100 per year. 28 Hammer satirized his own ubiquity, by telling a humorous story involving one appearance as graduation speaker for the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. According to Hammer, the general introducing him claimed that his requests for Sperry Univac's most interesting speakers had been repeatedly rebuffed, but that "Dr. Hammer is always available." 29

Professional associations

Although Carl Hammer had many technical successes (and firsts) during his long career, it is perhaps his contributions to professional organizations for which he is best remembered. As computer hardware and software evolved, so did the need for professionals to meet and exchange experiences. Soon after coming to Washington, D.C., to work for Sperry Univac, Carl joined the local chapter of the ACM and served as chair from 1966 to 1969, when he was voted as regional representative. Carl chaired the ACM Accreditation Committee from 1968 to 1970, the ACM Nominating Committee from 1971 to 1973, served as the ACM delegate to the American Association for the Advancement of Science from 1969 to 1973, and was an ACM National Lecturer in 1969 and 1970. During this period, Carl was also was a member of the American Society of Cybernetics, serving as vice president in 1968 and president in 1969.

As Carl made his marketing rounds for Sperry Univac, he met many members of the Data Processing Management Association. Most large cities had DPMA chapters, and members met on a monthly basis for fellowship, dinner, and technical education. In addition to seminars on technical subjects, most dinner meetings featured a lecture followed by a question and answer period. 30 Given Carl's stature in the industry and his wonderful lecture style, he was soon a fixture on the DPMA local, regional, and national meeting circuits. In 1973, in recognition of his service to DPMA and the industry, Carl was named the DPMA 1973 Man of the Year. 28

Carl's professional life was being consumed by extra Univac activities although he was aware of the obvious benefit of his exposure and stature to his employer. Carl had also become active in the American Federation of Information Processing Societies (AFIPS). 31 He chaired a panel on international developments at the Spring Joint Computer Conference (SJCC) in Washington, D.C., in March 1971. Carl served as a director of AFIPS from 1973 to 1975 and as one of two program chairmen of the National Computer Conference (NCC) in 1973, where he was also responsible for the technical program. 32 His next major assignment was the Second National Computer Conference, sponsored by AFIPS, in 1974. Although this was a major undertaking, Carl also served as chairman of the annual joint meeting of the two leading Canadian societies: Canadian Information Processing Society and the Canadian ACM on 23–24 May 1974. Carl was also asked by Harvey Garner, director of the Moore School, to serve as chairman of NCC '76.

Because of his stature and his experience with Sperry Univac, he also served as chairman of Pioneer Day at NCC '81, where the UNIVAC I was honored. 33 Carl served as chairman of the Distinguished Service Award Committee and as chairman of the History of Computing Committee from 1982 to 1984. 34 In recognition of his efforts, Carl was presented with the AFIPS Distinguished Service Award at NCC '85. 35

Carl was also instrumental in creating The First International Conference on Computer Communication in Washington, D.C., on 24–26 October 1972. The conference was sponsored by most of the existing computer societies. Carl served as vice chairman of the program committee, and was program coordinator for three sessions. In addition, Carl delivered a paper titled "Computer Communications: The Future," in which he made the following observations:

This developing relationship between computer and communications technology is possibly the most important event of our times … During the 1970's telecommunications revenue from machines conversing with machines will surpass that of people talking to people … By the end of this decade, electronic systems and especially communications will affect practically every aspect of human behavior … 36

For the Second International Conference on Computer Communication (ICCC '74, in Stockholm), Carl served as deputy secretary general of the conference. 37

In retrospect

Carl Hammer was one of a kind: a fine administrator, a superb technical mind, a great teacher, and a warm and supportive colleague. He pioneered the use of computers during his early career, provided leadership to numerous early professional and industry organizations, and became one of the most revered elder statesmen of the computing industry he helped create. We are all in his debt, and his unique legacy lives on every time computer people get together to exchange papers or listen to guest speakers. If we see the future from the shoulders of giants, Carl Hammer was one of the tallest.

References and notesSee C. Hammer oral history interview by J.R. Baker, 15 Apr. 1983, CBI OH 56, Charles Babbage Inst. (CBI), Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis; andJ.A.N.LeeComputer Pioneers,IEEE CS Press,1995,pp. 358–359.In the early 1990s, I worked with Carl to prepare notes about his career. This reference is to those notes, p. 5; the page numbers are continuous throughout.Notes,p. 10.According to, $1,100 in 1941 would be worth $14,120 in 2006 dollars.C. Hammer, oral history interview by J.R. Baker Ross, CBI OH 56,p. 27.According to the New York State Education Department, Walter Hervey closed its doors in 1957.Notes,p. 17.Carl's ability to "make the rounds" and meet people served him throughout his illustrious careerC. Hammer, oral history interview by J.R. Baker Ross, CBI OH 56, p. 12. In recognition of IBM's support, the laboratory was renamed The Thomas J. Watson Astronomical Computing Bureau on 6 February 1945 and was the location of numerous firsts in the computer field.SIAM was incorporated as a nonprofit organization under the laws of the State of Delaware on 30 April 1952.A-2 and A-3 were early UNIVAC languages for doing mathematical problems, and used a three-address coding structure. See:J.E.SammetProgramming Languages: History and Fundamentals,Prentice-Hall,1969,p. 753.Notes,p. 23SeeW.S.Humphrey"MOBIDIC and Fieldata,"Annals of the History of Computing,vol. 9,no. 2,1987,pp. 137–182.MOBIDIC never left the experimental stage. The system was used in Germany from 1957 to 1962 when the Fieldata project was cancelled due to a general reorganization of the US Army.C.HammerandH.MontvillaMaximal Flow in Networks, A Survey,RCA,31Oct.1960.For example,C.HammerFourier Analysis of EZ Aquilae Data,"RCA,31Mar.1961;C. Hammer, L.H. Byrne and V. Mitchell,Multivariate Quadratic Regression and Correlation,"RCA,6Oct.1961;and C. Hammer, L.H. Byrne, and B. Urban,Statistical System for MATS,RCA,9Nov.1961.Carl Hammer documented everything. One has only to look at the Carl Hammer Papers, 1950–1990 at CBI (CBI 3) to see how thorough he was. In CBI 56, Carl discusses his Roladex file in which he had 9,000 names, addresses, and telephone numbers.C. Hammer, oral history interview by J.R. Baker Ross, CBI OH 56, p. 30. Carl used this diary to prepare his Notes.D.G.Copelandet al,"Sabre: The Development of Information-Based Competence and Execution of Information-Based Competition,"Annals,vol. 17,no. 3,1995,pp. 30–57;andR.V.Head"Getting Sabre Off the Ground,"Annals,vol. 24,no. 4,2002,pp. 32–39.Interestingly, although this area was new to Hammer, on 18 May 1965, he gave an invited address to the New York Chapter of the IEEE on the "somewhat esoteric subject of Traffic Control."Worth $234 million in 2004 dollars ( For comparison purposes, the Sabre system was fully operational in 1964; two other IBM-based systems, Deltamatic and Panamac were operational in 1965. SeeD.G.CopelandandJ.L.McKenney"Airline Reservation Systems: Lessons from History,"MIS Quarterly,vol. 12,no. 3,1988,p. 356.According to D.G. Copeland et al. (ref. 18), the United and Eastern reservation systems failed because they lacked experience with the application and the technology; see"Sabre: The Development of Information-Based Competence and Execution of Information-Based Competition,"Annals,p. 40;D.G. Copeland and J.L. McKenney,"Airline Reservation Systems: Lessons from History,"MIS Quarterly,pp. 356–357(ref. 20). Hammer also refers to this project as a "fiasco" as being resolved in both (UAL and Univac) parties' favor. See Notes,p. 55.Notes,p. 19.Notes,p. 35.Notes,p. 95.Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.) challenged incumbent Lyndon Johnson for the 1968 Democratic nomination. When Johnson announced he would not run for reelection, the Democratic party selected Vice President Hubert Humphrey (a former senator from Minnesota).Annals,vol. 4,no. 3,1982,p. 248.Annals,vol. 4,no. 3,1982,pp. 245–256,contains "Mauchly: Unpublished Remarks," which contains the transcript of the Fireside Chat and an introduction by Carl Hammer.H.Donlan"At the Top,"Inside DPMA,vol. 29,no. 9,1991,p. 5.Notes,p. 174.Indeed, shortly after I attended his seminar at American University, Carl enlisted me to talk to one of the local DPMA chapters on whatever I was working on at the time. This was repeated over the years with new topics.AFIPS was a federation of societies formed to provide a mechanism for US participation in the International Federation of Information Processing Societies. Unlike the constituent societies, which were made up of individual members (who shared a common professional interest), AFIPS was a "society of societies." For more about AFIPS, see:"AFIPS 1961–1986,"a special issue ofAnnals,vol. 8,no. 3,1986,pp. 211–310.Notes,p. 101.V.C.Walker"Meetings in Retrospect,"Annals,vol. 3,no. 4,1981,pp. 400–407.The Annals of the History of Computing was the first periodical to be published by AFIPS. In the first issue, in July 1979, Aaron Finerman, Chairman of the AFIPS Publications Committee acknowledges the efforts of the Annals Organizing Committee, the Editorial Board, the AFIPS History of Computing Committee (HOCC) and its present and past chairs, Jean Sammet and William Leubbert. Sammet provided an overview of"General AFIPS History of Computing Activities"onpp. 6–8.Annals,"Notices,"vol. 7,no. 4,1985,p. 362.C.Hammer"Computer Communications: The Future,"Computer Communications: Impacts and Implications—The 1st Int'l Conf. Computer Communication,S. Winkler, ed., ACM Press,1972,pp. 31–35.Carl served as one of the governors of the ICCC and remained active in this movement through his retirement in 1981.Tim BerginAmerican

Background of Carl Hammer

Born 10 May 1914, Chicago, Illinois. Died 24 January, 2004, Washington, D.C. Education: Luitpold Oberrealschule, Munich, Germany, BS (mathematics); University of Munich: Diploma (mathematical statistics), 1936; PhD (mathematical statistics), 1938. Professional experience: Texaco Research Laboratories, mathematician and statistician, 1938–1943; Pillsbury Mills, statistician, 1944–1947; Walter Hervey Junior College, chairman of Technical Education, 1947–1951; The Franklin Institute, senior staff engineer, 1951–1955; Remington-Rand, director of UNIVAC European Computing Center, 1955–1957; Sylvania Electronic Products, staff consultant, 1957–1959; Radio Corporation of America: senior engineering scientist, 1959–1961; manager of scientific computer applications, 1961–1963; Sperry Univac, director of computer sciences, 1963–1981. Also adjunct teaching positions at US Military Academy, Pratt Institute, Hunter College, The American University, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Honors and awards: Fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Science, 1969; Association of Computer Programmers and Analysts, 1971; New York Academy of Sciences, 1976; World Organization of General Systems and Cybernetics, 1978; IEEE, 1986. He also received the Chester Morrill Memorial Award, Association for Systems Management, 1972; Computer Sciences Man-of-the-Year, Data Processing Management Association, 1973; Distinguished Service Award, ACM, 1979; Distinguished Service Award, American Federation of Information Processing Societies, 1981; IRM Lifetime Achievement Award, Federation of Government Information Processing Councils, 1986; and Founders Award, International Council for Computer Communications, 1992.

Selected Publications

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