Artifact Details


Fox, Phyllis A. SIAM oral history

Catalog Number





2005-06-07; 2005-06-08


Fox, Phyllis, Interviewee
Haigh, Thomas, Interviewer


SIAM and U.S. Department of Energy

Place of Publication

Short Hills, New Jersey, United States


68 p.



Copyright Holder

Computer History Museum


Phyllis Fox grew up in Colorado during the Depression of the 1930s, before earning a degree in mathematics from Wellesley College, Massachusetts during 1944. After graduation she worked for two years at the General Electric Company in Schenectady, NY, first as a human computer and then as operator of a differential analyzer. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Colorado in 1948, she went on to obtain a master’s in Electrical Engineering (1949) and a ScD in Mathematics (1954), both from MIT. During 1949 she worked with the Whirlwind team, producing a program for the still-unfinished computer as part of her master’s thesis. From 1954 to 1958 Fox was on the staff of the AEC Computing Center at the Courant Institute of New York University, working on Univac programs for atomic research. In 1958 she accompanied her husband back to Massachusetts, where she worked as a research associate for MIT, at first with Jay Forrester’s industrial dynamics group to develop the DYNAMO simulation language, and then with John McCarthy’s artificial intelligence group, for which she wrote the first programming manual for LISP. From 1963 to 1973 Fox was on the faculty of the Newark College of Engineering. In 1973 she moved to Bell Labs, where she had previously undertaken work on mathematical software during the summer of 1967, with Joe Traub and Morven Gentlemen. At Bell Labs she oversaw creation of the PORT mathematical software library and its enhancement through two expanded releases. As its name suggests, PORT was designed to achieve portability across a wide range of machines, something it achieved through the use of machine constants and through use of a common subset of Fortran instructions (enforced via a tool known as the PFORT verifier). Contributors to this project included Norm Schryer, Linda Kaufman, Jim Blue, Wayne Fullerton, David Gay, Andy Hall, Wes Petersen, Stu Feldman and Barbara Ryder. Fox left Bell in 1984, when funding for PORT was eliminated in preparation for AT&T’s legally mandated breakup. From 1984 to 1993 Fox was a consultant with Bell Communications Research.




Mathematical software; Whirlwind computer; UNIVAC; DYNAMO; PORT (software library)

Collection Title

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


Gift of SIAM and the US Department of Energy

Lot Number