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Richard Wesley Hamming was a computer visionary at the dawn of the computing revolution at Bell Telephone Laboratories, impacting computer engineering and telecommunications.


Hamming is most well-known for developing the Hamming codes, an error correction system that can detect and correct errors when data is stored or transmitted. Today, these codes and their descendants are widely used in communication and computational technology, including everything from extracting data transmitted from space probes to recovering jammed communications. Hamming’s texts on digital filter theory, coding and information theory shaped computing.


Born in Chicago on February 11, 1915, Hamming received a scholarship to attend University of Chicago, where he earned a bachelor’s in mathematics in 1937. He completed a master’s at University of Nebraska in 1939 and a PhD at UIC Urbana–Champaign in 1942, where he remained on as an instructor. In 1944, he became an assistant professor at University of Louisville.


In April 1945, he became the chief mathematician for the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. He worked on programming the IBM calculating machines that computed the solution to equations provided by the project's physicists.


Hamming spent 30 years at Bell Labs, setting himself apart with unconventional solutions and attitudes. In his first 15 years he was involved in the lab’s most prominent achievements, and for this, he received the A.M. Turing Award for computer science in 1968, being its third recipient. He enjoyed a second career as a computer science professor and text book author, mainly at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He is famous for saying, “The purpose of computation is insight, not numbers.”

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Math alumnus (BS'37) and Turing Award-winner who pioneered operating systems and programming languages

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Photo Source: Courtesy of Nokia Bell Labs

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