[SIGCIS-Members] Handwritten "First Draft" in Dyson's book?

Ceruzzi, Paul CeruzziP at si.edu
Tue Sep 1 12:38:27 PDT 2015

There is a “First Draft” in the rare book library of the Smithsonian. A number of years ago I got a call from the Bureau of Standards (now NIST), which was discarding a large personal library accumulated by one of its employees. I went up there to Gaithersburg, and it sort of “popped out” from the files. It is one of the original mimeographed copies—strictly speaking, not “mimeographed” but reproduced by some other chemical means. It was bound in a cardboard cover, signed by Sam Alexander, which I removed. Alexander was one of the builders of the SEAC computer. A classic story of how this collection was days away from the dumpster. The Draft is extremely fragile—it has to be handled very carefully as it was on some sort of chemically-treated paper that crumbles easily. But it is readable.

I’ve often wondered exactly how many copies were made by Goldstine, but perhaps we’ll never know for sure.

The rest of the NBS collection went to the Babbage Institute. You may be upset that I broke up the collection, but, hey, I saved it.


From: Members [mailto:members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] On Behalf Of Thomas Haigh
Sent: Tuesday, September 01, 2015 2:45 PM
To: Chuck House
Cc: members at lists.sigcis.org
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Handwritten "First Draft" in Dyson's book?

Following up on Chuck's point, I believe that Dyson's work at IAS on the history of its computer project (led by von Neumann) prompted IAS to organize and make accessible its files on the project. https://library.ias.edu/finding-aids/ecpfa

Dyson also received access from John von Neumann's daughter, Marina von Neumann Whitman, to some papers she had retained when the Library of Congress accessioned her father's papers. These include letters between von Neumann and his second wife, Klara. He was kind enough to share some of his copies of these with us, as they were at that point in Whitman's basement. However she has subsequently given them, along with her own papers, to Radcliffe College.

I would, however, be stunned if either collection holds a manuscript for the "First Draft." I'm confident that it is not in Goldstine's collection at Hampshire college, which is quite small and has an excellent folder level finding aid. Goldstine's APS papers were, when I used them a few years ago, not fully processed and had only a draft finding aid. Something could be hiding there, but I didn't come across it and IIRC he gave to Hampshire first and provided them with the things he thought were most historically significant. I recall seeing a recent announcement from APS that the papers were finally processed. I'm also fairly sure that there is no First Draft manuscript in the von Neumann papers at the Library of Congress, as I looked through carefully for one without success.


On 1 September 2015 at 13:00, Chuck House <housec1839 at gmail.com<mailto:housec1839 at gmail.com>> wrote:
George Dyson has given a number of talks about this book, the process by
which it was written, and the sources.  A key set of sources were
available from family and friends, previously unaccessed.  My strong hunch
re your question is that "lots of the unreferenced information" is of this
type.  My understanding (or maybe inferred belief) is that much of this
material is in process of being given to (or maybe has been given to) the
Princeton libraries, but it likely is not yet indexed, catelogued, or
assentioned, which could account for your difficulty in locating some of

I am pretty sure that Dyson's contact info is available via the Computer
History Museum.  Dag?

Best regards,
Chuck House

On 9/1/15 7:56 AM, "Members on behalf of Mai Sugimoto"
<members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org<mailto:members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org> on behalf of nix.pura at gmail.com<mailto:nix.pura at gmail.com>> wrote:

>Dear SIGCIS members:
>I found George Dyson's book, Turing's Cathedral (2012), seems to show
>the original hand-written version of the "First Draft" (probably?) in
>a picture page, which is on 13 pages after p.136. Since the caption
>says the picture is from Princeton University Libraries, I contacted
>archivists of the Libraries to access the manuscript. But the
>archivists answered they cannot find any material like the picture
>within the collection or elsewhere in related collection. I also asked
>to the IAS Library, but they cannot find anything, either. Then, as
>the archivists suggested, I contacted the publisher to send a message
>to Mr. Dyson. They told me just a forwarding address, so I sent a
>regular mail to Mr. Dyson in last February to make sure of the
>location of the manuscript.
>I have not received the reply yet. I am stranded. Does anyone know
>contact information of Dyson, or have any idea about the picture on
>the book or the original hand-written version of the draft? My
>colleagues and I have been working of a Japanese translation of von
>Neumann's original paper. Dyson's book is very interesting, but it
>seems to have a lot of unreferenced information, so my collaborators
>and I think that we should be careful to handle this book in the
>bibliographical comments.
>Mai Sugimoto
>Associate Professor
>Faculty of Sociology, Kansai University
>3-3-35, Yamate-cho, Suita-shi
>Osaka, Japan 564-8680
>msgmt at kansai-u.ac.jp<mailto:msgmt at kansai-u.ac.jp>
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