“Anti-aircraft guns all day long”: Karl Pearson and computing for the Ministry of Munitions

Barrow-Green, June (2015). “Anti-aircraft guns all day long”: Karl Pearson and computing for the Ministry of Munitions. Revue d'Histoire des mathématiques, 21 pp. 111–150.

URL: http://smf4.emath.fr/Publications/RevueHistoireMat...


In December 1916 Pearson offered the services of his staff from the Drapers’ Biometric Laboratory and the Galton Eugenics Laboratory at University College London, to the Ministry of Munitions. The offer was accepted with alacrity by AV Hill, head of the Anti-Aircraft Experimental Section, who was eager to liberate his own men from the labours of computation. From January 1917 until March 1918 Pearson worked tirelessly on the often tedious work of computing of ballistic charts, high-angle range tables and fuze-scales. He also made significant contributions to the mathematical theory behind the tables. Pearson’s staff consisted of mathematicians, computers and draughtsmen. Women were an important constituent of the work force, not least because the escalating demands of conscription meant that the men were often at risk from the recruiting sergeants. Things did not always go smoothly—Pearson did not take kindly to the calculations of his staff being questioned by the mathematicians producing the data—and Hill sometimes had to work hard to keep the peace.

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