John G. Kemeny

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John George Kemeny
File:John George Kemeny.jpg
President of Dartmouth College
In office
Preceded by John Sloan Dickey
Succeeded by David T. McLaughlin
Personal details
Born (1926-05-31)May 31, 1926
Budapest, Hungary
Died December 26, 1992(1992-12-26) (aged 66)
Hanover, New Hampshire, United States
Awards Computer Pioneer Award (1985)

John George Kemeny (Hungarian: Kemény János György; May 31, 1926[1] – December 26, 1992) was a Jewish-Hungarian American mathematician, computer scientist, and educator best known for co-developing[2] the BASIC programming language in 1964 with Thomas E. Kurtz. Kemeny served as the 13th President of Dartmouth College from 1970 to 1981 and pioneered the use of computers in college education. Kemeny chaired the presidential commission that investigated the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.[2]

Early life

Born in Budapest, Hungary,[1] Kemeny attended the Rácz private primary school in Budapest and was a classmate of Nandor Balazs. In 1938 his father left for the United States alone. In 1940, he took the whole Kemeny family to the United States[1] when the adoption of the second anti-Jewish law in Hungary became imminent.[3] His grandfather, however, refused to leave and perished in the Holocaust, along with an aunt and uncle.[4] Kemeny's family settled in New York City where he attended George Washington High School. He graduated with the best results in his class three years later.[2] In 1943[1] Kemeny entered Princeton University where he studied mathematics and philosophy, but he took a year off during his studies to work on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos National Laboratory. His boss there was Richard Feynman. He also worked there with John von Neumann. Returning to Princeton, Kemeny graduated with his B.A. in 1947, then worked for his doctorate under Alonzo Church. He worked as Albert Einstein's mathematical assistant[1] during graduate school. Kemeny was awarded his doctorate in 1949 for a dissertation entitled "Type-Theory vs. Set-Theory".


Kemeny was appointed to the Dartmouth Mathematics Department in 1953.[1] Two years later he became chairman of the Department, and held this post until 1967. Kemeny and Kurtz pioneered the use of computers for ordinary people. After early experiments with the LGP-30, they invented BASIC programming language in 1964, as well as one of the world's first timesharing systems, the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System (DTSS).

John Kemeny was president of Dartmouth from 1970 to 1981, and continued to teach undergraduate courses and to do research and publish papers during his time as president. He presided over the coeducation of Dartmouth in 1972. He also instituted the "Dartmouth Plan" of year-round operations, thereby allowing more students without more buildings. During his administration, Dartmouth became more proactive in recruiting and retaining minority students[2] and revived its founding commitment to provide education for American Indians. Kemeny made Dartmouth a pioneer in student use of computers, equating computer literacy with reading literacy. In 1982 he returned to teaching full-time.

In 1983, Kemeny and Kurtz co-founded a company called True BASIC, Inc. to market True BASIC, an updated version of the language.


Commemorative plaque to John George Kemeny. It is affixed to the wall of his former domicile.

John Kemeny died at the age of 66, the result of heart failure in Lebanon, New Hampshire[2] on December 26, 1992.[3] He had lived in Etna, near the Dartmouth campus.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Weibel, Peter (2005). Beyond Art - A Third Culture : a Comparative Study in Cultures, Art, and Science in 20th Century Austria and Hungary. Springer. p. 350. ISBN 3-211-24562-6. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Faison, Seth (1992-12-27). "John Kemeny, 66, Computer Pioneer and Educator (obituary)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-02. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ohles, Frederik; Shirley M. Ohles; John G. Ramsay (1997). Biographical Dictionary of Modern American Educators. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 189. ISBN 0-313-29133-0. 
  4. "True Basic. A sketch of John Kemeny" (PDF). Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. 2001-12-13. Retrieved 2012-07-23. 

External links