April 11, 2006

Emanuel Goldberg and his Knowledge Machine

by Michael Buckland

Emanuel Goldberg (1881-1970) was a Russian Jew who earned his doctorate in Chemistry under Wilhelm Ostwald and went on to do very important work in engineering and photography -- including key developments in photochemistry, in the design of the Contax camera, the microdot, the microfiche, and the search engine. His work on a "statistical engine" in the 1930's anticipates (and is in some ways superior to) Vannevar Bush's Memex: astonishingly, he successfully built a prototype and used it in his daily correspondence in running Zeiss-Ikon. Kidnapped and cheated of his position by the Nazi's in the 1930's, he fled to Paris and then to Palestine. Though he lived to see others take the credit and the profits of his inventions, he was by no means forgotten: he received honorary doctorates, medals, the Israel prize, and personal letters from Ben-Gurion.