[SIGCIS-Members] Origin of the word "throughput"

David Grier grier at gwu.edu
Tue Jan 3 13:14:11 PST 2012

It's an early 19th century term that transferred to computer science in the early 1960s.  It's generally assumed to be of Scottish origin and was applied to distilling, refining and other continuous processes.  The OED gives a 1915 first usage.  Gene Amdahl uses the term in 1962 and hence it could have been used on the System 360 project. 

David Alan Grier
Fellow, IEEE
President Elect, Computer Society
Assoc Prof. Int. Sci & Tech Policy.

On Jan 3, 2012, at 2:29 PM, Lambert, Kevin wrote:

> Dear all,
> My name is Kevin Lambert, an historian of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century
> physic-mathematics with an interest in the history of the computer and
> someone who very much appreciates your exchanges.  I have recently had the
> following inquiry (see below) directed my way.  Can anybody help?
> Prof. Lambert,
>> I am a contributing editor at Popular Science, and I am working on a feature
>> for the magazine for which I'm trying to find the origin of the term "high
>> throughput."  Andy Jewett at Harvard (who was my advisor for my MA thesis at
>> NYU a few years ago) suggested I contact you.
>> I have asked a few bioinformatics people where "high throughput" comes from,
>> because the first time I learned about it was through genomics and drug
>> discovery.  They couldn't answer.  I am now wondering if it is a computing
>> term-- I know that "high throughput computing" exists-- that was adapted for
>> biology.  Andy suggested I check with you on the computing connection.
>> Any ideas on the origin of this term?  If not, any suggestions on who might
>> know?  I've run multiple book/journal article searches and haven't come up
>> with anything useful.
>> I realize this is very short notice right before the holidays, but if you have
>> time to respond sometime tomorrow or by early next week, I'd be very grateful.
>> If you'd like to learn more about my project, I'm happy to explain on the
>> phone.
>> Thanks very much,
>> Brooke
>> -- 
>> ___________________
>> Brooke Borel
>> www.brookeborel.com <http://www.brookeborel.com>
>> (001) 646.262.4346 <tel:646.262.4346>
> twitter: @brookeborel
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