SHANNON, CLAUDE E. 1916-2001.
"A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits." Pp 713-723. IN: Transaction of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. New York: AIEE, 1938. Vol 57.
4to. Original blue cloth, blind-stamped and gilt-lettered. Light shelf-wear and weak hinges, library bookplate and small stamp to preface, sticker removed from spine, but bright and attractive.
Provenance: Goodwyn Institute Library, Memphis (bookplate).
FIRST APPEARANCE OF "PROBABLY THE MOST SIGNIFICANT THEORETICAL STEP TOWARD THE CONSTRUCTION OF ELECTRONIC DIGITAL COMPUTERS MADE PRIOR TO WORLD WAR II" (OOC). Shannon's seminal paper explored for the first time the powerful analogy between symbolic logicparticularly Boolean algebraand electrical relay and switching circuits. After careful analysis of various forms of circuits and networks, Shannon concluded: "It is possible to perform complex mathematical operations by means of relay circuits. Numbers may be represented by the positions of relays or stepping switches, and interconnections between sets of relays can be made to represent various mathematical operations. In fact, any operation that can be completely described in a finite number of steps using the words 'if,' 'or,' 'and,' etc. ... can be done automatically with relays."
Shannon wrote this paper as a graduate student at MIT, working with Vannevar Bush on the differential analyzer. Herman Goldstein has called it "masterful ... surely one of the most important master's theses ever written ... a landmark in that it helped to change digital circuit design from an art to a science" (The Computer From Pascal to Von Neumann pp 119-20). The significance of Shannon's paper was immediately recognized; George Stibitz wrote that "when Shannon's work reached Bell Labs ... I was delighted with the simplicity and conciseness of Boolean algebra when it was used as a language for describing relay switching circuits" (The Zeroth Generation p 91). More than 60 years later, the luster of this work had not dimmed; in Shannon's obituary, the New York Times concluded that his 1938 paper had set out for the first time "a basic idea on which all modern computers are built." From Gutenberg to the Internet 12.1; Origins of Cyberspace 363.