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'The Most Brilliant Man That I've Ever Met' Has Died

Jerry Merryman helped invent the hand-held electronic calculator at Texas Instruments
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 6, 2019 11:10 AM CST
This 1997 photo shows Jack Kilby and Jerry Merryman, right, at the American Computer Museum in Bozeman, Mont.   (Phyllis Merryman via AP)

(Newser) – Jerry Merryman, one of the inventors of the hand-held electronic calculator who's described as "the most brilliant man that I've ever met," has died. He was 86. Merryman died Feb. 27 at a Dallas hospital from complications of heart and kidney failure, said his stepdaughter, Kim Ikovic. She said he'd been hospitalized since late December after experiencing complications during surgery to install a pacemaker. He's one of the three men credited with inventing the hand-held calculator while working at Dallas-based Texas Instruments. The team was led by Jack Kilby, who made way for today's computers with the invention of the integrated circuit and won the Nobel Prize. The prototype built by the team, which also included James Van Tassel, is at the Smithsonian Institution. Highlights from the AP's obituary:

  • Merryman, who was born on June 17, 1932, grew up in Hearne in Central Texas. By the age of 11 or so, he'd become the radio repairman for the town. "He'd scrape together a few cents to go to the movies in the afternoons and evenings and the police would come get him out ... because their radios would break and he had to fix them," said Merryman's wife, Phyllis Merryman.
  • Merryman told NPR's All Things Considered in 2013, "It was late 1965 and Jack Kilby, my boss, presented the idea of a calculator. He called some people in his office. He says, 'We'd like to have some sort of computing device, perhaps to replace the slide rule. It would be nice if it were as small as this little book that I have in my hand.'" Merryman added, "Silly me, I thought we were just making a calculator, but we were creating an electronic revolution."
  • The Smithsonian says that the three had made enough progress by September 1967 to apply for a patent, which was subsequently revised before the final application in June 1974.
  • "I have a PhD in material science and I've known hundreds of scientists, professors, Nobel prize-winners, and so on. Jerry Merryman was the most brilliant man that I've ever met. Period. Absolutely, outstandingly brilliant," said Vernon Porter, a former TI colleague and friend. "He had an incredible memory and he had an ability to pull up formulas, information, on almost any subject."
(Read more obituary stories.)

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