Artifact Details


Erisman, Albert M. SIAM oral history

Catalog Number





2005-07-06; 2005-07-07


Erisman, Albert M., Interviewee
Haigh, Thomas, Interviewer


SIAM and U.S. Department of Energy

Place of Publication

Bellevue, Washington, United States


74 p.



Copyright Holder

Computer History Museum


Albert M. Erisman grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Northern Illinois University in 1962, during which he developed an interest in journalism. On graduation he worked for two years as a teacher, before returning to school at Iowa State University where he received his applied mathematics PhD in 1969. A course in numerical linear algebra with Bob Lambert kindled his interest in numerical analysis and led to thesis work in the area. Erisman then went to work for Boeing in Seattle, where he remained until retiring in 2001. He began as part of a small group of mathematicians, providing internal consulting services to projects in need of mathematical expertise. He became closely involved with Boeing’s internal library of scientific routines, which under the name BCSLIB was also used by external clients as part of Boeing Computer Services’ timesharing service and later software sales offering. Erisman rose within Boeing Computer Services during the 1970s, managing its mathematical and modeling services. He discusses BCS and its business strategy, the role of applied mathematics within Boeing, and the development and function of BCSLIB. Erisman also explains a shift during the early-1980s toward use of Cray systems, and the challenges involved in optimizing a library for vector systems. Boeing’s success in this area led to work producing computational kernels for computer vendors. Erisman’s responsibilities continued to broaden, and by the 1990s he was Directory of Technology for Boeing, with broad responsibilities for IT and mathematical research. He discusses the contributions of scientific and technical computing to Boeing’s success, including the FlyThru technology used in the design of the Boeing 777 jet. Erisman’s main personal contribution to research in mathematical software came in the area of sparse matrices, including his long-term collaboration with John Reid and Iain S. Duff resulting in numerous papers and the book Direct Methods for Sparse Matrices. This interest grew out of applied problems faced by Boeing early in his career, and throughout the interview Erisman stresses the importance of a deep understanding of context and problem areas in the design of mathematical software. Since leaving Boeing, Erisman has devoted himself to a new career exploring the intersection of business ethics and technological change. He has been traveling widely as a speaker and consultant, and directing the Institute for Business, Technology and Ethics and its publication, Ethix magazine.




Applied mathematics; Numerical analysis; Boeing Computer Services; BCSLIB Mathematical/Statistical Library; FlyThru technology; Software

Collection Title

Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) oral history collection


Gift of SIAM and the US Department of Energy

Lot Number