Emanuel Goldberg

Whenever feeling downcast, each person should vitally remember, ‘For my sake, the entire world was created.’
Baal Shem Tov

Emanuel Goldberg (1881-1970)
Emanuel Goldberg (1881-1970)

In the 1920s the German scientist Emanuel Goldberg (1881-1970) of Zeiss Ikon, Dresden, pioneered electronic retrieval technology and library automation. Goldberg designed, built, and demonstrated a “photoelectric microfilm selector” which contained many, if not all, of the concepts history of science professionals now associate with Vannevar Bush. It seems this was the first practical application of electronics to the selection of data on film.

In 1914, Emanuel Goldberg developed a machine that read characters and converted them into standard telegraph code (early OCR). Later (by May 1927) Goldberg designed a photoelectric microfilm selector, which he called a statistical machine. Two prototypes were built at Zeiss Ikon by 1931 and, perhaps, constitute the first successful electronic document retrieval.

During the International Congress of Photography in Dresden in 1931, Goldberg presented his “Statistical Machine,” a document search engine that used photoelectric cells and pattern recognition to search the metadata on rolls of microfilmed documents.

The Congress of Photography in Dresden in 1931, must be regarded as a peak in Goldberg’s career. It was the proposal presented on behalf of the Committee for Sensitometry by Goldberg and his professor Robert Luther for a standard measure of film speeds that became the principal topic of discussion. This proposal led to the adoption of the familiar DIN and ASA film speed ratings. At the Congress Goldberg gave extremely interesting lectures and was awarded the prestigious Peligot medal of the French Society for Photography and Cinematography.

These events seem to have overshadowed a paper that Goldberg presented at one of the technical sessions entitled “Neue Wege der photographischen Registertechnik” (New Methods of Photographic Indexing). It was a clear and concise paper describing the design of a microfilm selector using a photoelectric cell. It is, perhaps, the first paper on electronic document retrieval and describes what seems to have been the first functioning document retrieval system using electronics. A prototype was also demonstrated.

In the 1920s microfilm had become popular as a storage medium for records (e.g. in banks), and all kinds of people were busily inventing microfilm equipment. Microfilming saved storage space and banks found that microfilming canceled checks was a useful measure against fraud. But, since the documents were unlikely to have been microfilmed in an order that was convenient for identifying individual records, the question became how to search for any given document.

Statistical Machine's sensing mechanism
Statistical Machine’s sensing mechanism

Obviously, the best solution was to have an integral retrieval system (one which combined the index and the document). There are two logical possibilities. One could attach frames of microfilm to the card (“aperture cards”) or one could record the logical equivalent of a punched card onto the microfilm alongside the image of the document. One might punch holes in the film or arrange opaque and translucent spots on the film to denote hole or no-hole. Each of these techniques was tried. The usual form of microfilm selector technology is to create a “search card” (a punched card) or template, bearing the coding pattern sought, and align it and the coded areas on the microfilm between a light source and a photoelectric cell.

In the nearby picture, you can see the Statistical Machine’s sensing mechanism. Rays from the light are blocked by the search card except for the holes for the code being sought.

Goldberg's record identify
Goldberg’s record identify

As the microfilm bearing codes move past the search card (see the nearby picture), the coincidence of a pattern on the microfilm matching the pattern on the search card would affect the flow of light from the light source to the photocell and, thereby, the flow of electric current from the photocell. In this way, the desired record is identified and appropriate action, such as the creation of a copy, is triggered.

When Goldberg’s U.S. patent appeared in 1931 (see the patent No. 1838389), IBM promptly acquired a license for it. James Bryce, the Chief Scientific Director of IBM, monitored new developments in electronics and was interested in microfilm as a data storage medium. Later in 1936, Bryce himself applied for a patent for an advanced microfilm selector.

Note: For more information on Emanuel Goldberg, see Prof. Michael Buckland’s book “Emanuel Goldberg and his Knowledge Machine” or his web page http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~buckland/goldberg.html.

Biography of Emanuel Goldberg

Emanuel Goldberg (1881-1970)
Emanuel Goldberg (1881-1970)

Emanuel Goldberg was born as Эмануэль Гольдберг on 31 August 1881, in Moscow, in the Russian Jewish family of Colonel Grigorii Ignatievich Goldberg (полковник Григорий Игнатьевич Гольдберг), a high-ranking officer in the Tsar’s military medical corps and his wife Olga Moiseevna Grodsenka (Ольга Мойсеевна Гроценко).

Grigorii Goldberg (born 1853) was a distinguished and decorated Colonel in the Medical Corps at Tsar’s Army, later a Court Counselor (in the Russian Empire it was very unusual for a Jew to obtain such positions, so Grigorii Goldberg must have been a remarkable man). In 1879 Grigorii Goldberg married Olga Grodsenka (born 1859), from Kovno (now Kaunas, Lithuania).

The first child in the family was Raphael (b. 1880), then Emanuel (1881), and Tamara (1884).

Emanuel began his life and was educated in the cultured, cosmopolitan world of the upper middle classes in late 19th-century Moscow. His teachers were German.

The young Emanuel was not a fast learner, had difficulty memorizing, and was late in beginning to talk, but he was, by his own admission, a man with an obsession: At the age of six, I was shown by a friend of the family how a lever can be used to lighten work. Since then I have been obsessed with the idea that, by using a tool, life can be made more pleasant. To be an engineer seemed to me the highest goal. It was not easy for s Jewish boy in Czarist Russia to reach this goal. Instead of playing with my tools, I had to learn the irregular verbs of Russian, German, French, English, Greek, Latin, [Church] Slavonic, and, last but not least, Hebrew for the Bar-Mitzva. I hated learning languages…

Emanuel was also interested in the natural sciences, especially geology and zoology. His secondary school (3rd Moscow Gymnasium) leaving certificate record primarily “excellent” grades, and he ranked second in his class. He then applied to the engineering degree program at the Imperial Technical School of Moscow. However, the Imperial Technical School had a restrictive admission quota for Jewish, meaning in practice, that no more than one Jewish student would be admitted. Despite performing excellently in the entrance examination, Goldberg was not accepted (there was another Jewish with the same result, and the choice was made by a lot, Goldberg wasn’t the lucky fellow.)

Deeply disappointed by this discrimination, Goldberg enrolled instead at the University of Moscow to study Chemistry. He was an exceptional student and collaborated in research in electrochemical reactions with Alexander Speranskii, a faculty member, who specialized in physical chemistry. In 1903 Goldberg received his first patent and earned some money. He remained in Moscow until 1904, although spending quite some time also abroad at German and English universities. In 1904 he enrolled at Leipzig University for a doctoral dissertation.

In April 1906, Goldberg received a Ph.D. from the University of Leipzig, awarded with highest honors, summa cum laude. After a year as assistant to Adolf Miethe in the Photochemistry Laboratory at the Technical University in Charlottenburg, Berlin, he became head of the photographic department of the Royal Academy of Graphic Arts and Bookcraft, in Leipzig from 1907 to 1917.

Emanuel Goldberg and his wife Sophie in 1909
Emanuel Goldberg and his wife Sophie in 1909

In 1917 Goldberg was recruited by the Carl Zeiss firm in Jena to become a director of its photographic products subsidiary ICA (Internationale Camera Aktien Gesellschaft) in Dresden where he introduced the spring-driven Kinamo movie camera. In 1926 four leading photographic firms formed Zeiss Ikon under Goldberg’s leadership until he was kidnapped by Nazis in 1933 and fled to Paris. After four years working for Zeiss subsidiaries in France, Goldberg moved to Palestine in 1937 where he established a laboratory, Goldberg Instruments, which became the Electro-Optical Industries (“El-Op”) in Rehovot.

On 28 June 1907 Goldberg married Sophie Posniak (28 August 1886-10 December 1968). They had a son, Herbert Goldberg (b. 20 November 1914), and a daughter Renate Eva, now Chava Gichon (b. 19 September 1922).

Goldberg retired in 1960 but continued his research and died in Tel Aviv on 13 September 1970.