Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 25
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  • ARTHUR G. ANDERSON 1926-2021

    BY NICHOLAS M. DONOFRIO

    ARTHUR GEORGE ANDERSON, retired vice president, International Business Machines, died peacefully in his sleep August 31, 2021, at age 94. An icon in the technical community, his technological leadership in IBM Research and Development was legendary. Wherever technology was on the move, from hard disc drives to semiconductors, as deployed throughout IBM’s vast array of Compute Systems and Storage Systems, across the United States and around the world, Art was involved and engaged.

    Art was born to Margaret (Bree) and Arthur Gustav Anderson on November 22, 1926, in Evanston, Illinois. He grew up in the Chicago area and briefly worked as a commercial radio engineer with an extra class amateur radio license, call sign w9kvq. He joined the Navy in July 1944 and served on the USS Menard as captain’s yeoman. Upon discharge from the service, he attended the University of San Francisco, graduating with a BS degree in physics in 1949. He went on to postgraduate studies, receiving an MS in mathematics at Northwestern University in 1951 and a PhD in physics from New York University in 1958.

    Art’s 33-year industrial career at IBM began in 1951 as an engineer in applied mechanics at Poughkeepsie, NY, focusing on the development of high-speed computer technology and the design of prototype hardware. In 1953 he transitioned to a position at IBM’s research lab at Columbia University while he completed his doctorate at NYU, performing research in solid-state physics aimed at understanding magnetic phenomena in metals.1

    His brilliance as a researcher and manager quickly became apparent, as he continued research and began management activities shortly after completing his PhD. In 1961 he was named manager of the IBM Research Laboratory in San Jose, California. While there, he established and provided direction for a combined materials and process engineering activity that provided the basic technology for the IBM copier. His unique contribution was recognition of the need for a project-oriented activity involving engineers, physicists, and chemists, a need not generally recognized at the time. He was also instrumental in establishing a group in control theory that made major advances in computer control of traffic and electric power grids. He provided strong leadership in this effort to bring advanced control theory to bear on immediate engineering problems.

    Returning to the East Coast in 1965, Art became assistant director of research at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY. In addition to being responsible for day-to-day operations of the IBM Research Division, he provided direction and support for a major engineering effort devoted to realizing a trillion-bit memory. Under his leadership, the feasibility of major features of this memory, including electron beam recording on photographic film and file handling through vacuum seals, was established.

    This assignment was followed by a stint at IBM in Armonk, NY, where he was responsible for staff support of the Corporate Technical Committee, a group concerned with the overall technical posture of IBM. In this position, he had a major role in the development of a more comprehensive method of forming long-range technical plans to identify areas and issues of primary importance to the future of the corporation.

    Returning to Yorktown Heights in 1967 as director of research at Watson Research Center, Art was responsible for IBM’s research on information-handling concepts and technologies conducted at laboratories in Zürich, New York City, San Jose, and Yorktown. This was followed in short order by his ascension in 1969 to vice president and director of research, where he had a major impact on IBM’s technical effort by vigorously seeking to overcome the two main problems of industrial research laboratories: isolation from mainstream pure research in the universities, and isolation from nuts-and-bolts engineering problems in the company’s development laboratories. He greatly increased interchange between IBM Research and universities through a program in which about 20 tenured professors each year spent their sabbaticals at IBM Research and a similar number of IBM research staff served as visiting professors at universities. He also established a post-doctoral program at IBM Research.

    Art increased the interaction between research and development activities in IBM by bringing development and manufacturing groups into the research environment. By their location and interchange of personnel, the coupling between these groups increased dramatically. Other contributions included the emphasis in IBM Research on advanced uses of com puters, particularly in large-scale scientific computations but also in laboratory automation, and broad conversational terminal computation using advanced languages and advanced techniques such as interactive graphic terminals, all pathbreaking at the time.

    He emphasized the importance of broad areas of research that relate to the use of computers, including computer languages, displays, terminals, and other engineering challenges associated with optimizing the human-machine interface. At the IBM Yorktown Laboratory, he made enormous computing power readily available to everyone, thus presiding over the early days of making computers and computation an essential element of forefront research.

    In 1970 Art spent a year as a visiting fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, CA, and this confirmed a strong sense of duty and civic participation as key values, which he acted on especially during his retirement. He also learned to fly.

    At the conclusion of his sabbatical Art remained in California, serving as vice president and director of technical assessment in the Data Processing Product Group (1971–72), and then vice president and president of the General Products Division (1972–79), both in San Jose. This was followed by other senior leadership positions at IBM until his retirement in 1984 as senior vice president.

    Art was ultimately responsible for the IBM businesses that drove high-end and high-performance systems, storage, and software. His legacy lives on as these products continue to drive success and value for IBM and its clients.

    For the National Research Council, he served on the Board on Telecommunications/Computer Applications (1982–85).

    Being both self-assured and self-aware is a gift and Art was truly blessed. Alongside his acclaimed and well-recognized technical leadership skills were his thoughtful interpersonal skills and keen business instincts. As bright and technology savvy as Art was, he was equally thoughtful and engaging.

    During his retirement Art consulted for the University of California to help revitalize the engineering curriculum. In preparation for this project, he sat in for a semester of under-graduate engineering classes at the California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo, including completing the homework assignments. He also worked with the University of Nevada and the Desert Research Institute leading development of the Nevada Award, the state’s highest scientific honor. These efforts led to an honorary doctorate from the University of Nevada.

    Also in retirement, Art began writing poetry, adding to his lifelong admiration of and participation in the arts. It was with poetry that Art communicated his last wishes to his family.

    Among many prestigious awards for his contributions to science, the management of scientific research, and civic society, his favorite was the inaugural George Pake Prize (1984), awarded by the American Physical Society to recognize “outstanding work by physicists combining original research accomplishments with leadership in the management of research or development in industry.” The prize is endowed by the Xerox Corporation, one of IBM’s major competitors at the time, and Mr. Pake was Art’s contemporary leading Xerox’s research organization.

    After retirement, Art and his wife Eliza (née Chavez Moran; they married in 1975) spent many years living in or near Monterey Bay, CA; Lake Tahoe, NV; Prescott, AZ; Durham, NC; and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where they flew, hiked, camped, skied, boated, and enjoyed life to its fullest.

    Art is survived by Eliza; children Joseph (Susan Williams) in Flagstaff, AZ; Robin (Kirstin Summers) in San Pedro, CA; Jennifer in Red Bluff, CA; Diane Heninger (Autumn Doucet) in Wenatchee, WA; David (Tammy) Heninger in Morgan Hill, CA; and Ivan (Jacquelyn) Heninger in Selma, NC; 13 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

    ____________________
    1 His son Ivan Heninger reports that Art’s work in nuclear magnetic resonance “was top of mind in his last weeks of life as he recreated those memories to confirm his own fitness following hip surgery.” 

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