Professor Vannevar Bush’s invention of the Differential Analyzer in 1931 “mechanized calculus.” This analog electromechanical device built with the assistance of Bush’s graduate students—Harold Hazen, Samuel Caldwell, Gordon Brown, and Harold Edgerton—filled a room. The integrator unit that was on exhibit was one of six that were connected together by long metal rods and gears. Glass panels reveal the wheel-and-disc mechanism that performed the actual integration and helped provide the solution to complex differential equations. During the 1930s, Bush continued to develop this device, and many MIT laboratories benefited—including Harold Edgerton’s famous Strobe Lab and George Harrison’s Spectroscopy Lab. During World War II, the Differential Analyzer was used 24 hours a day, especially to help solve problems from the MIT Radiation Laboratory. Bush became a prominent figure when President Franklin D. Roosevelt named him to be his top science advisor during the war. After the war, Bush’s timely analysis, Science: The Endless Frontier, led to the creation of the National Science Foundation.
Differential Analyzer, Integrator Unit
photo: Michael Cardinali for MIT Museum