Item #29125 A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits [later generation copy of the MIT Preprint of the AIEE paper]. Claude E. Shannon, enrolled student AIEE, Elwood.
Shannon's landmark paper [ XEROX COPY OF MIT reprint ]

A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits [later generation copy of the MIT Preprint of the AIEE paper]

New York: American Institute of Electrical Engineers [AIEE] September 16, 1938. Later printing. [1]-11, 12 pages. 10 7/8 x 8 3/8 inches. Copied loose leaves stapled upper left. A later generation copy the MIT Preprint of the AIEE paper. Copy quality is not ideal, but it is readable and a copy from Shannon's personal files. Near Fine. Wraps. [29125]

We offer a later generation copy of the previously unrecorded MIT preprint of Claude Shannon’s AIEE paper “A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits,” a pivotal paper in the history of computing. (see #1.5 in COLLECTOR’S NOTES).

This paper (often referred to as Shannon’s famous Master’s Thesis) is a fundamentally important work in the history of computing. It demonstrates how to combine the mathematical rigor of Boolean logic with the engineering practice of building circuits, a discipline previously more of an experimental art form than a true engineering discipline. This work provided the foundation for computer circuit design as we know it today, without which the phenomenal growth of computing (see Moore’s Law) could not have happened.

“In 1936 [after obtaining the degrees of Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Bachelor of Science in Mathematics at the University of Michigan, Shannon] accepted the position of research assistant in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The position allowed him to continue studying toward advanced degrees while working part-time for the department. The work in question was ideally suited to his interests and talents. It involved the operation of the Bush differential analyzer, the most advanced calculating machine of that era … Also of interest was a complex relay circuit associated with the differential analyzer that controlled its operation and involved over one hundred relays. In studying and servicing this circuit, Shannon became interested in the theory and design of relay and switching circuits. He had studied symbolic logic and Boolean algebra at Michigan in mathematics courses and realized that this was the appropriate mathematics for studying such two-valued systems. He developed these ideas during the summer of 1937, which he spent at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York City, and, back at MIT, in his master’s thesis, where he showed how Boolean algebra could be used in the analysis and synthesis of switching and computer circuits.” (Sloane and Wyner pp xi-xii)

The American Institute of Electrical Engineers recognized the significance of Shannon’s thesis and invited the young Claude Shannon, an “Enrolled Student AIEE,” to present an abstract of his thesis at the June 1938 Summer AIEE conference while still enrolled at MIT. “The thesis, his first published paper, aroused considerable interest when it appeared in 1938 in the AIEE Transactions. In 1940, it was awarded the [1939] Alfred Noble Prize of the combined engineering societies of the United States, an award given each year to a person, not over thirty, for a paper published in one of the journals of the participating societies.” (Sloane and Wyner, pp. xi-xii).

Herman H. Goldstine notes: “This surely must be one of the most important master’s theses ever written...The paper was a landmark in that it helped change digital circuit design from an art to a science.” (Goldstine, pp 119-120)

"Shannon's paper, written in 1937 at Bell Labs, proved in theory what George Stibitz was demonstrating empirically at Bell Labs at just about the same time with his famous 'Model K' relay calculator...Shannon proved that the two-valued algebra developed by George Boole … could be implemented electrically by telephone relays and used as a basis for designing computer circuits." (Origins of Cyberspace)

PROVENANCE: The personal files of Claude E. Shannon (unmarked). One of ten examples in Shannon's files.

REFERENCES: (citing the regular AIEE Transactions publication)
Sloane and Wyner, "Claude Elwood Shannon Collected Papers," #1
Hook and Norman, "Origins of Cyberspace," #363.
Swartzlander, Earl E. Jr., "Computer Design Development, Principal Papers," Hayden: 1976.
Goldstine, Herman H., “The Computer from Pascal to Von Neumann,” Princeton University Press: 1980, pp 119-120.

Below is our current understanding of the printing history of “A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits.” Except for Item 1.1a we have personally examined one or more examples (digitally or physically) of each entry. Please note the change of item 1.3 to item 1.1a in the listing based on new information from the current owner of that item.

Pre-publication - Master’s thesis (note change since our first Shannon catalog)
1.0 The original markup copy, dated 1937 (private collection)
1.1a Unknown duplication process with penciled annotations in an unknown hand (private collection, previously referred to as 1.3)
1.1b A preliminary blue line print, dated 1938, contemporary with and probably made from 1.1a (private collection - your example, previously 1.1)
1.2 The official MIT Libraries archive copy, dated 1940 (MIT Libraries)
1.3 no copy - Previously "The second MIT Libraries archive copy" (now number 1.1a above)

While working on his MIT Master’s Thesis, Shannon was invited to and presented his work at the Summer conference of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, June 2-24, 1938. The following publication history is related to that presentation.

Publication - Shannon’s AIEE thesis presentation
1.4 AIEE presentation preprint, dated June 1938
Marked "AIEE Technical Paper 38-80, June 1938: Advance Copy Not Released for Publication" and further "A paper recommended by the AIEE committees on communication and basic sciences, and scheduled for presentation at the AIEE summer convention, Washington, D. C., June 20-24, 1938. Manuscript submitted March 1, 1938; made available for preprinting May 27, 1938." Shannon thanks his thesis advisor Dr. F. L. Hitchcock, Dr. Vannevar Bush, and Dr. S. H. Caldwell (all from MIT) for "helpful encouragement and criticism.”
1.5 MIT preprint of 1.6 below, dated September 16, 1938
Hand-applied ink-stamp upper left "A Reprint from the Dept. of Electrical Engineering 141 Mass. Institute of Technology" partially covering the title and author of the paper.
1.6 Transactions of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers’ printings
In the bound volume, Vol 57, 1938 (the most common format)
In the year-end Supplement, December 1938
1.7 The AIEE reprint, with corrections, undated, but after 1938
1.8 The “Geniac reprint,” circa 1955-58, reprinted from item 1.5 but with poor reproduction quality and lacking imprint information on the final page.

The American Institute of Electrical Engineers’ standard practice was to publish at least some of the papers from the Summer conference in the end-of-year annual Transactions volume. The first regular publication of Shannon’s paper appears in this publisher’s cloth-bound volume of the Transactions, Vol. 57 (1938). pp. 713-23 (1.6a above). For AIEE members who did not subscribe to the transactions, the AIEE also issued (in wrappers) a year-end Supplement (December 1938), including Shannon’s paper (1.6b above). No precedence is currently known.


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