Columbia University Computing History   

L.H. Thomas and Wallace Eckert in Watson Lab, Columbia University

LH Thomas and WJ Eckert
LH Thomas and WJ Eckert in Watson Lab; Photo: [37]

Professors Llewellen Hilleth Thomas and Wallace J. Eckert looking over a machine calculation in Watson Lab at Columbia University in the 1940s or 50s. In the background on the left you can see a stack of control panels which were used to program IBM equipment before the stored-program computer days (CLICK HERE for another view of the Watson Lab "program library"). Right rear: the IBM master clock.

LH Thomas
LH Thomas
L.H. Thomas (1903-1992, PhD Cambridge University 1927) is known by physicists for the Thomas Precession (of the electron) and the Thomas-Fermi-Dirac Model (the statistical model of the atom). One of the world's foremost applied mathematicians, he was brought to Watson Lab in 1945 from Ohio State University as a "technician" since he did not seem to fit into any existing job category, and was a appointed a full professor of Physics at Columbia in 1946. That same year Thomas, Eckert, and Herb Grosch were the first to teach for-credit computer courses at Columbia -- or anywhere else! (Thomas taught Physics 228, Numerical Solution of Differential Equations.) Thomas's influence at Watson Lab -- in physics, mathematics, and machine design -- was so great that eventually Eckert thought of the perfect job title for him on the organization chart: "L.H. Thomas" [9]. While at Watson Lab he invented core memory (in 1946) two years before An Wang did (but it was Wang's version that took off) [9], and is also credited with NORC's 3-address instruction format [9]. He remained at Columbia until 1968, when he moved on to North Carolina State University.
Columbia University Computing History Frank da Cruz / This page created: January 2001 Last update: 31 March 2021