Interviews by Richard R. Mertz, Smithsonian Institution

Interviews by Richard R. Mertz, Smithsonian Institution

Herb Grosch, 1989

Dr. Herbert R.J. Grosch, “A com­puter pioneer who managed important space and tech­nology projects, Grosch is respected for discovering and describing the relationship between speed and cost of computers.”

  — ACM Fellows Award Citation, 1995

“Years ago I thought I was the brightest guy in the world. Then I met von Neumann and Feynman. In recent decades I've settled for greatest name-dropper. Then I found Bemer's sites!! Best to just shoot for crankiest? Or at least, crankiest nonagenarian”.
Herb Grosch, 26 November 2003

From Herb's 1991 autobiography: “I was made into a computer fifty years ago. I was the second scientist ever hired by IBM, and I watched the Watsons on Olympus, and Bill Norris and Ken Olsen and Gene Amdahl, and a thousand great commercial and academic figures. Later, for three amusing years, I was the top Federal computer honcho, and escaped to be editor of the major trade newspaper. I was a charter member of the world's first and largest professional computer society, and the first national president ever elected by membership petition. I worked in Monaco and Switzerland and the Netherlands when I was too controversial to be employable in the U.S., and I consulted for the largest and best Japanese computer company...”

Herb is featured on this site because, with Wallace Eckert, he was one of the principal instigators of automated machine computing and computer science at Columbia University as an IBM Watson Lab scientist and Columbia faculty member, 1945-1950. In 2003 Herb noticed my history and we began a voluminous correspondence that lasted until his death; he has made countless contributions to this site as you can see by putting "grosch" in the search box on the main history page (or just click here).

Herb was a human encyclopedia; not only had he been everywhere and done everything, he remembered every detail: people, machines, events, organizations, programming techniques from the dark ages, every IBM machine and model over a span of half a century. He was generous and candid with his knowledge, which he passed on with a self-effacing sense of humor, and, it must be said, he was a deep and sincere appreciator of women, a rare quality even to this day in persons of his gender. As can be seen from his autobiography, he led an extraordinarily full life, and was remarkably open about his failings. Click on the image strip at the top to see a gallery of personal photos. Organizing and labeling these (and many others not yet shown) was a project he wasn't able to complete.

Career highlights:

Selected Publications:

  • Maxwell, Allan D. and H.R.J. Grosch, "Elements and Ephemeris of Delaporte Object 1936 CA", Publications of the Observatory of the University of Michigan, Vol.6, No.11 (1937).
  • Grosch, H.R.J., Integration Orbit and Mean Elements of Jupiter's Eighth Satellite, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan (April 1942).
  • Grosch, H.R.J., and J.E. Willis, "Positions of Pluto", Astronomical Journal, Vol.50, No.14 (June 1942), pp.14-15.
  • Grosch, H.R.J., "Ray Tracing on IBM Punched Card Equipment", Journal of the Optical Society of America, Vol.35, 803A (1945).
  • Grosch, H.R.J., Bibliography on the Use of IBM Machines in Scientific Research, Statistics, and Education, IBM (1945).
  • Grosch, H.R.J., "Harmonic Analysis by the Use of Progressive Digiting", Proceedings of the 1946 Research Forum, IBM (1946).
  • Grosch, H.R.J., "The Orbit of the Eighth Satellite of Jupiter", Astronomical Journal, Vol.53, No.180 (1948) (a condensed published form of Grosch's 1942 Ph.D. thesis).
  • Grosch, H.R.J., "Ray Tracing with the IBM Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator", Journal of the Optical Society of America, Vol.39, 1059A (1949).
  • Grosch, H.R.J., "Multiplication of Small Matrices", IBM, New York (1 Jun 1949).
  • Grosch, H.R.J., (ed.), Proceedings of the 1948 Scientific Computation Forum, IBM (1950).
  • Grosch, H.R.J., "The Use of Optimum Interval Mathematical Tables", Proceedings of the 1948 Scientific Computation Forum, IBM (1950).
  • Grosch, H.R.J., "Bibliography on Chebyshev Polynomials and Their Use as Optimum Approximation Functions", Proeceedings of the 1949 Scientific Computation Seminar, IBM (1951).
  • Grosch, H.R.J., "A New Level of Instruction in Celestial Mechanics", Astronomical Journal, Vol.63 (1958).
  • Grosch, H.R.J, Computer: Bit Slices of A Life (first edition), Third Millenium Books (1991).

Links (Verified 25 August 2018):