Richard Hamming (1915-1998) was an American mathematician who made important contributions to computing.
Hamming was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1915. He received a B.S. from the University of Chicago, an M.A. from the University of Nebraska, and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. All of his degrees were in mathematics.
In 1945 Hamming went to Los Alamos where he was joined shortly afterwards by his wife, Wanda Little, who was also employed to work on the Manhattan Project. Hamming was put in charge of the IBM calculating machines, which were essentially early computers. Hamming described, “At Los Alamos I was brought in to run the computing machines which other people had got going, so those scientists and physicists could get back to business. … I saw Feynman up close. I saw Fermi and Teller. I saw Oppenheimer. I saw Hans Bethe: he was my boss.” Hamming remained in Los Alamos for six months after most scientists had left to write up details on his work.
After the war, Hamming worked in the mathematics department of the Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey. His work there included the development of what is now known as Hamming Codes, which are designed for error-detecting and error-correcting. He also developed the Hamming Spectral Window, a kind of digital filter for certain frequencies, allowing the user to look at a certain part of a signal. Hamming received the Turing Award from the Association for Computer Machinery in 1968 “for his work on numerical methods, automatic coding systems, and error-detecting and error-correcting codes.”
During this time, Hamming was also a visiting or adjunct professor at Stanford University, the City College of New York, the University of California at Irvine, and Princeton University. Hamming left the Bell Laboratories in 1976 and accepted a full-time position to teach computer science at the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California. In 1986, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers created the Richard W. Hamming Medal in his honor, and Hamming was the first recipient.
Hamming died on January 7, 1998, in Monterey.