[SIGCIS-Members] What inspired Bush's Memex?

Marc Weber marc at webhistory.org
Tue Nov 15 20:41:31 PST 2022

Bush was aware of a lot of prior work on related ideas in Europe for information technology, including that of Paul Otlet <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Otlet> and his Mundaneum, the World Brain article and later book <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Brain> by H.G. Wells, not to mention the actual microfilm retrieval mechanism built into a desk by Emanuel Goldberg <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emanuel_Goldberg> at Zeiss-Ikon in the early 1930s (Bush couldn’t patent certain aspects of the Memex because of Goldberg’s prior work). 

Bush’s really important twist on prior work was to use two microfilm readers in parallel, thus allowing hypertext links between them and the sharing of “trails” made up of such links between users. 

The start of the Web gallery <https://www.computerhistory.org/revolution/the-web/20/370> in our Revolution <https://www.computerhistory.org/revolution/topics#exhibition> exhibition very briefly talks about the work above except for Goldberg.

For books Professor Michael Buckland of UC Berkeley wrote Emanuel Goldberg and his Knowledge Machine <https://www.amazon.com/Emanuel-Goldberg-His-Knowledge-Machine/dp/0313313326/ref=sr_1_3?crid=1XDL8JJQMPQV7&keywords=michael+buckland&qid=1668573113&sprefix=michael+buckland,aps,167&sr=8-3> about the Memex’s precursor, as well as numerous articles. Paul Kahn of Brown University wrote From Memex to Hypertext <https://www.amazon.com/Memex-Hypertext-Vannevar-Minds-Machine/dp/0125232705/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3LG514Y333H3C&keywords=vannevar+bush+paul+kahn&qid=1668572978&sprefix=vannevar+bush+paul+kahn,aps,133&sr=8-1>, G. Pascal Zachary wrote an excellent biography of Bush <https://www.amazon.com/Endless-Frontier-Vannevar-Engineer-American-ebook/dp/B077721CMV/ref=sr_1_2?crid=GNW04BN9A1L4&keywords=vannevar+bush&qid=1668572875&sprefix=vannevar+bush,aps,372&sr=8-2>  and Bush wrote an autobiography <https://www.amazon.com/Pieces-Action-Vannevar-Bush-ebook/dp/B0B15CCH7N/ref=sr_1_1?crid=GNW04BN9A1L4&keywords=vannevar+bush&qid=1668572946&sprefix=vannevar+bush,aps,372&sr=8-1>.  

Best, Marc

p.s. here’s a quote from Wikipedia on Goldberg’s microfilm retrieval machine and the Memex:
“...At the same Congress Goldberg introduced his "Statistical Machine," a document search engine that used photoelectric <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photoelectric> cells and pattern recognition <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattern_recognition> to search the metadata <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metadata> on rolls of microfilmed <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microfilm> documents (US patent 1,838,389, 29 December 1931). This technology was used in a variant form in 1938 by Vannevar Bush <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vannevar_Bush> in his "microfilm rapid selector," his "comparator" (for cryptanalysis), and was the technological basis for the imaginary Memex <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memex> in Bush's influential 1945 essay "As we may think.” 

> On Nov 15, 2022, at 18:56, Koblentz, Evan via Members <members at lists.sigcis.org <mailto:members at lists.sigcis.org>> wrote:
> Does anyone have documentation, or good theories, about how/where Vannevar Bush was inspired to develop his ideas for the speculative Memex? I know that he was privy to the latest computer developments, but how did he make the jump from plugboards and punch cards to a virtual encyclopedia and hypertext?
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