John G. Kemeny

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John George Kemeny ( Hungarian Kemény János György [ ˈjaːnoʃ ˈɟørɟ ˈkɛmeːɲ ], born May 31, 1926 in Budapest , † December 26, 1992 in Etna , New Hampshire ) was an American mathematician born in Hungary . He is one of the inventors of BASIC - programming .

Memorial plaque on Kemény's former home in Budapest


János Kemeny was born in Budapest and attended the renowned Rácz primary school there. One of his schoolmates was Nandor Balazs . Kemeny's father was a foreign trade merchant and went to the USA in 1938 and brought his family to join him in 1940 in order to avoid the threat of persecution of the Jews by the National Socialists. However, Kemeny lost his grandfather and other relatives in the Holocaust . Kemeny went to school in New York (George Washington High School) and studied mathematics and philosophy in Princeton from 1945 , interrupted by a year in Los Alamos , where he worked on the Manhattan Project under Richard Feynman and also with John von Neumann . In 1947 he received his bachelor's degree from Princeton and received his PhD in mathematical logic (Type Theory versus Set Theory) from Alonzo Church in 1949 . At the same time, he was still at Princeton before graduating as an instructor and while working on his doctoral thesis he was Albert Einstein's mathematical assistant at the nearby Institute for Advanced Study . In 1951 he was an assistant professor (in the philosophy department, later also in mathematics) at Princeton. In 1953 he became a professor at Dartmouth College , where he was faculty chair from 1955 to 1967. 1970 to 1981 he was the successor to John Sloan Dickey President of Dartmouth College, but then devoted himself entirely to teaching.

With Thomas E. Kurtz he developed the programming language Basic in 1963, with the aim of making computers accessible to ordinary people (hence the name: Beginners All Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code ). Their first basic program ran on May 4, 1964, and their book was published in 1967. They also developed the early time-sharing computer system DTSS ( Dartmouth Time Sharing System ), which enabled multiple users to work on the computer at the same time. Their system was used by General Electric in 1965 as the basis for a commercial product. Kemeny and Kurz founded True Basic in 1983 to market an improved Basic version.

Kemeny also incorporated his experience with computers into math classes by introducing finite mathematics courses, with probability theory, logic and linear algebra (matrices). A number of well-known textbooks emerged from it.

In 1979 he was chairman of the commission to investigate the Three Mile Island nuclear accident .

Kemeny had been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1968 . In 1984 he received the New York Academy of Sciences award. In 1986 he received the IEEE Computer Medal . In 1990 he received the Louis Robinson Award . He received 21 honorary doctorates.

He had been married since 1951 and had two children.


  • with J. Laurie Snell & Gerald L. Thompson: Introduction to finite mathematics. 1957, 1960, 1962.
  • with J. Laurie Snell: Mathematical Models in the social sciences. Boston, Ginn 1962, MIT Press 1972.
  • with J. Laurie Snell & Gerald L. Thompson: Finite Mathematical structures. 1959.
  • A philosopher looks at science. 1959.
  • with J. Laurie Snell & Anthony W. Knapp : Denumerable Markov Chains. 1966


  • Donald J. Albers, GL Alexanderson Mathematical People - Profiles and Interviews , Birkhäuser 1985

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