Julian Bigelow


Julian Bigelow
Fields of study


Julian Bigelow was a mathematician and electrical engineer who developed the study of cybernetics and was the chief engineer of the IAS machine, which became the model for IBM’s first all-electronic stored-program computer, the 701.

Bigelow was born in 1913 and earned a master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During World War II, he created fire-control systems for weapons with Norbert Wiener, the mathematician considered to be the founder of the discipline of cybernetics. Bigelow, Wiener, and Arturo Rosenblueth collaborated on a paper, “Behavior, Purpose and Teleology,” which elaborated the principles of interactive systems that would define cybernetics. This paper led to the formation of the Teleological Society, a meeting of intellectuals and scientists that was formalized into a series of meetings called the Macy Conferences. The Macy Conferences, attended by thinkers like Weiner, von Neumann, Warren McCullough, Margaret Mead, and Heinz von Foerster, laid the foundation for much twentieth century research, particularly in cybernetics.

Building off the momentum of these meetings, in January 1946, mathematician John von Neumann began a project to create a stored-program computer at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. At Weiner’s recommendation, von Neumann made Bigelow the chief engineer of the machine, which became known as the IAS. Bigelow was credited with having the even temperament and practical engineering knowledge that could make Weiner and von Neumann’s theoretical work a reality. Over a dozen IAS "clones" were built across the world, and von Neumann consulted on IBM's development of the 701 computer, which was based on the IAS' design.

Further reading

Paul E. Ceruzzi, STARS: Inventing the Computer.

John Markoff, "Julian Bigelow, 89, Mathematician and Computer Pioneer," NY Times, 22 Feb. 2003.