The Many Careers of Jay Forrester
Computing pioneer Jay Forrester, SM ’45, developed magnetic-core memory. Then he founded the field of system dynamics. Those are just two of his varied pursuits.by
June 23, 2015
It is a late March day in Massachusetts. The sky is clear, but the air is frigid and the wind fierce. Looking outside, Jay Forrester, SM ’45, turns to glimpse the swaying treetops. He knows all about the power of wind. As a teenager, he harnessed it to bring electricity to his family’s ranch in Nebraska.
A precocious tinkerer, Forrester studied electrical engineering at the University of Nebraska. He arrived at MIT as a graduate student in 1939 and never left, staying on as researcher, professor, and now professor emeritus. He has been at MIT for more than half the time that has passed since the Institute opened its doors.
Yet Forrester’s 76-year MIT tenure is even more notable for its breadth than its duration. He helped develop digital computing. He oversaw the creation of a national air defense system and helped launch MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. Then he joined what is now the MIT Sloan School of Management and founded the field of system dynamics, which examines complex business, economic, and environmental systems—and the unexpected feedback effects human activity creates within them. “I’ve had several careers,” says Forrester, who turns 97 in July. “Starting with ranch hand.”
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