Hyman Eli Goldberg and Emanuel Goldberg – two pioneers of optical character and code recognition – or why one of them was not properly credited

I was researching for an article about image and object recognition, when I stumbled upon an inconsistency. In the Wikipedia article about optical character recognition (OCR) I read:

“In 1914, Emanuel Goldberg developed a machine that read characters and converted them into standard telegraph code.”

A few a few lines further it was stated that the same Emanuel Goldberg developed a machine (called “Statistical Machine”) for searching microfilm archives using an optical code recognition system. Furthermore it was stated that the Statistical Machine got patented in 1931.
Now I wanted to know more about these machines and immediately found lots of information about the Statistical Machine on the web. For instance about it’s intended purpose that was to retrieve accounting and sales statistics, therefore the name (source).
But for the first machine I found absolutely nothing, only dozens of articles with copies of the sentence from Wikipedia. This was strange, why were there no sketches and no technical details available, when it was such a noteworthy invention?

I studied the footnotes. In the Wikipedia article the indicated source for the information about the machine of 1914 was:

Dhavale, Sunita Vikrant (2017). Advanced Image-Based Spam Detection and Filtering Techniques. Hershey, PA: IGI Global. p. 91.

I quickly found the passage in the book by Dr. Dhavale and read about the same:

“In 1914, Emanuel Goldberg developed a machine to convert printed characters into standard telegraph code.”

She presented another source for this: Schantz, Herbert F. (1982). The history of OCR, optical character recognition

„Okay, we are getting closer“, I thought. Thanks to ebook lending I was able to look that up promptly. The answer may not surprise you. Herbert F. Schantz states crystal clear that it was Goldberg who invented a machine that reads and converts typed messages to standard telegraph code (Morse code):

Schantz 1982, snippet of page 2

One can see that the year for the invention now has changed from 1914 to 1912. – A few lines above Schantz mentions a time window (between 1912 and 1914) to include the invention of the optophone by Edmund Fournier d’Albe:

Schantz 1982, snippet of page 2

I assume this is how the year 1914 got into the book of Dhavale. Please also note that the forename is misspelled. His correct name is Emanuel Goldberg.

But what really astonished me, was the notion that the work was done in Chicago. Emanuel Goldberg was Professor at Leipzig (Germany) during that time, why should he work in Chicago?

At this point I already sensed that Schantz’s research for this chapter was deeply flawed. – I decided to consult the only comprehensive biography of Emanuel Goldberg that is available. It was written by Berkeley professor Michael Buckland and published in 2006. The title of the book: Emanuel Goldberg and his Knowledge Machine.

Of course “knowledge machine” refers to Goldberg’s Statistical Machine. (For those who are interested in the operating principles of that machine: the technical details can be found on this page). Anyway. I leafed through the book. It was was arranged more or less chronologically and I found nothing about Goldberg spending time in Chicago or working on a machine that converts characters to Morse code.

I was already in the 1930s and half through the book as Buckland suddenly quotes from this passage of the book of Herbert F. Schantz:

Schantz 1982, snippet of page 3

The passage starts with the notion that Goldberg was „already known for the invention of OCR-type telegraphic devices.“ But other than Dr. Dhavale Prof. Buckland realized that Schantz had messed it up. Buckland knew that two inventive Goldbergs existed, both working on optical recognition systems. The famous one is of course Emanuel Goldberg. The almost forgotten one is Hyman Eli Goldberg (also known as Hyman Golber, due to a later change of name).

Here is, what Buckland states with regard to Schantz’s confusion:

“For once in his life, Goldberg received more than his fair share of credit, because two inventive Goldbergs working on pattern recognition devices have not been adequately distinguished. The other Goldberg was Hymen [sic] Eli Goldberg of Chicago, who was associated with the Goldberg Calculating Machine Company and changed his name to Hymen Eli Golber. Golber obtained numerous U.S. and German patents, most of them in the years 1907 to 1914 and 1930, for innovations in calculating and printing machinery. One of his techniques was to print characters in electrically conducting ink on a nonconducting surface. A sensor would then test whether surface points were conductive or not, thereby detecting the location and shape of printed characters.”

Buckland 2006, p. 162

Note that Buckland got the forename wrong. Hyman is correct.

Long story short: It was Hyman Eli Goldberg who patented a machine that converts characters into telegraph code.

And this is the corresponding patent: it was filed as „Controller“ in 1911 and granted in 1915: patents.google.com/patent/US1165663A (a precursor version is patented under US1117184.)

patent US1165663, snippet of page 1

By the way: the machine can NOT process standard print or typewrite letters. The conversion works due to a specifically shaped set of letters and digits that is presented on page 3 of the patent file:

patent US1165663, snippet of page 3

For further reading: there is at least one publication (from Dennis Yi Tenen, Columbia University) that acknowledges, explains and credits the invention of Hyman Eli Goldberg properly: amodern.net/article/laminate-text

Conclusion: It is a bit frustrating that Michael Buckland’s finding did not make it into the Wikipedia (as of 11/11/2022). The false claim is now spread over the Internet and will never vanish completely.
So what can be learned from this? – Well, obviously this: do not trust every information that is in the Wikipedia, always look for the original source, if something looks inconsistent, dig deep.

The Hitler Easter Coincidence

Hitler’s birthday was on April 20, 1889, one day before Easter Sunday. The first year, where his birthday and the Easter Day were coincidental, was 1919, followed by 1924 and 1930.
In 1939 Hitler’s birthday was declared a national holiday in Nazi Germany. But only for this single year. The reason: Hitler became 50 in 1939. On this occasion the largest military parade in the history of the Third Reich was held in Berlin. Unfortunately [from Hitler’s point of view] the Easter Day was that year on April 9. Presumably he would have been pleased about such a coincidence on his 50th birthday, but he was unlucky: during the whole time he was in power there was no Easter Sunday on April 20.
At Easter 1945 [April 1] Hitler was already trapped in the Führerbunker. He did also celebrate his last birthday there. Ten days later he was dead.
Only in the next century Easter Sunday was again on April 20. In 2003 and yes: this year. Probably it is just irony of history that the most evil person mankind has seen and Jesus Christ share from time to time their feast day, but it leaves a strange gut feeling.
btw: there are two ‚Hitler Easter Days‘ left for this century: 2025 and 2098. The probability for Easter Sunday at April 20 is about 3.4%. The full distribution of Easter dates here.

Alternative History, Part I: The Life of the Austrian Painter Adolf Hitler [1889-1915]

Born in 1889 at Braunau am Inn, Upper Austria, Hitler grew up in Passau and Linz.

Bild: Hitler as infant / Hitler als Kleinkind
Hitler as Infant

At the age of ten Adolf discovered his passion for drawing and painting, but his father Alois ignored this desire and sent his son in 1900 to the „Realschule“ of Linz, a technical high school of about 300 students. There he met Ludwig Wittgenstein (the later world famous philosopher). They both shared an interest for art and music (especially Wagner operas) and soon became friends. In school Hitler had deficits in mathematics and grammar, but with the help of his friend Ludwig (who was top of the class) he eventually managed to quit school with a diploma.

School class photo / Klassenfoto
bottom left: Wittgenstein | top right: Hitler

In 1907 Hitler moved to Vienna to enroll at the Academy of Fine Arts. The assessment commission attested him talent for drawing, respectively architectural images, but yet rejected him, because of his „unfitness for painting“. Maybe Hitler was not an artistic genius, but he had a strong will and was fairly disciplined. In 1908 Hitler passed the entrance test again, this time successfully.

Collage of Hitler paintings / Collage von Hitler-Gemälden
This collage unites some early works of Adolf Hitler, right in the middle a photograph of the artist as a young boy.

In 1910 Hitler became the last „Meisterschueler“ of Christian Griepenkerl (1839 – 1912), curiously enough the professor who rejected him in 1907. In 1912 Hitler had his first more extensive exhibition at the Secession hall in Vienna. At this time his style was strongly influenced by landscapists like Van Gogh and Cézanne, but of course in his own expressionistic interpretation.
Since 1913 Hitler and Ludwig Wittgenstein lived together in a spacious urban villa at the Viennese Kundmanngasse that was built according to own construction plans. At this time their homosexuality was already an open secret. With the beginning of World War I in 1914 both of them joined the Austrian army (Wittgenstein voluntarily, Hitler by force). While Wittgenstein stayed uninjured and even could finish his first main work in the trenches (the Tractatus logico-philosophicus), Hitler was shot during a harsh attack of the Serbian enemy in January 1915 and died from exsanguination, aged only 25.
Hitler was not the only famous German speaking painter who lost his life in the trenches. August Macke, Franz Marc and Franz Noelken also died at the frontline. It’s hard to imagine what artworks those fallen heroes may have produced if they did not have died that young …