Michael Stern Hart, 1947-2011

Michael Stern Hart, the man who is given credit for inventing the electronic book in 1971, died September 6 following a heart attack at his home in Urbana, Illinois. Hart who was born in Tacoma, Washington, grew up in Urbana. He dropped out of college, was drafted into the Army, and served in Korea during the Vietnam War.

He came home and graduated from the University of Illinois in two years. It was there that Hart came up with the idea for the electronic book.  “He had been granted access to significant computing power at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, ” Gregory B. Newby wrote in his obituary of Hart on the Project Gutenberg web site . “On July 4 1971, after being inspired by a free printed copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, he decided to type the text into a computer, and to transmit it to other users on the computer network.”

The rest is electronic book history. Hart went on to found Project Gutenberg, one of the first and best online literary projects.

“Michael S. Hart left a major mark on the world, ” Newby said. “The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, and the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.”

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