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Michael S. Hart

Michael S. Hart

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Michael Stern Hart was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 author, best known as the inventor of the electronic book
E-book
An electronic book is a book-length publication in digital form, consisting of text, images, or both, and produced on, published through, and readable on computers or other electronic devices. Sometimes the equivalent of a conventional printed book, e-books can also be born digital...

 (or ebook) and the founder of Project Gutenberg
Project Gutenberg
Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks". Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books...

, a project to make ebooks freely available via the Internet
Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

. Most of the early postings were typed in by Hart himself.

Early life


Michael Hart's father was an accountant and his mother, a former cryptanalyst during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, was a business manager at a retail store. In 1958 his family relocated to Urbana, Illinois
Urbana, Illinois
Urbana is the county seat of Champaign County, Illinois, United States. As of the 2010 census, the population was 41,250. Urbana is the tenth-most populous city in Illinois outside of the Chicago metropolitan area....

, and his father and mother became college professors in Shakespearean studies
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 and mathematics education
Mathematics education
In contemporary education, mathematics education is the practice of teaching and learning mathematics, along with the associated scholarly research....

, respectively. Hart attended the University of Illinois
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign is a large public research-intensive university in the state of Illinois, United States. It is the flagship campus of the University of Illinois system...

, graduating in just two years. He then attended but did not complete graduate school. He was also, briefly, a street musician.

Project Gutenberg


During Hart's time there, the University of Illinois computer center gave Hart a user's account on its computer system: Hart's brother's best friend was the mainframe
Mainframe computer
Mainframes are powerful computers used primarily by corporate and governmental organizations for critical applications, bulk data processing such as census, industry and consumer statistics, enterprise resource planning, and financial transaction processing.The term originally referred to the...

 operator. Although the focus of computer use there tended to be data processing
Data processing
Computer data processing is any process that a computer program does to enter data and summarise, analyse or otherwise convert data into usable information. The process may be automated and run on a computer. It involves recording, analysing, sorting, summarising, calculating, disseminating and...

, Hart was aware that it was connected to a network (part of what would become the Internet
Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

) and chose to use his computer time for information distribution. Hart related that after his account was created on July 4, 1971, he had been trying to think of what to do with it and had seized upon a copy of the United States Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

, which he had been given at a grocery store on his way home from watching fireworks
Fireworks
Fireworks are a class of explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic and entertainment purposes. The most common use of a firework is as part of a fireworks display. A fireworks event is a display of the effects produced by firework devices...

 that evening. He typed the text into the computer but was told that it would be unacceptable to transmit it to numerous people at once via e-mail
E-mail
Electronic mail, commonly known as email or e-mail, is a method of exchanging digital messages from an author to one or more recipients. Modern email operates across the Internet or other computer networks. Some early email systems required that the author and the recipient both be online at the...

. Thus, to avoid crashing the system, he made the text available for people to download instead.

This was the beginning of Project Gutenberg. Hart began posting text copies of such classics as the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 and the works of Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

, Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, and Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

. As of 1987 he had typed in a total of 313 books in this fashion. Then, through being involved in the University of Illinois PC User Group and with assistance from Mark Zinzow, a programmer at the school, Hart was able to recruit volunteers and set up an infrastructure
Infrastructure
Infrastructure is basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise, or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function...

 of mirror sites and mailing lists for the project. With this the project was able to grow much more rapidly.

The mission statements for the project were:
"Encourage the Creation and Distribution of eBooks"
"Help Break Down the Bars of Ignorance and Illiteracy"
"Give As Many eBooks to As Many People As Possible"


His overall outlook in the project was to develop in the least demanding format possible: as worded in the Chronicle of Higher Education, to him, open access meant " open access without proprietary displays, without the need for special software, without the requirement for anything but the simplest of connections. "

Other activities


Hart was an author and his works are available free of charge on the Project Gutenberg
Project Gutenberg
Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks". Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books...

 server. He was also a member of the RepRap Project
RepRap Project
The RepRap project is an initiative to develop a 3D printer that can print most of its own components...

, which aims at creating a self-replicating machine.

Personal life


He supported himself by doing odd jobs and used an unpaid appointment at Illinois Benedictine College to solicit donations for the project. "I know that sounds odd to most people, but I just never bought into the money system all that much. I never spent it when I got it. It's all a matter of perspective".

Hart glided through life with many possessions and friends, but very few expenses. He used home remedies rather than seeing doctors, fixed his own house and car. He built many computers, stereos, and other gear, often from discarded components sacrificing personal luxury to fight for literacy, and for preservation of public domain rights and resources, towards the greater good.

The man who spent a lifetime digitizing literature lived amidst the hard copies in his house in Urbana stacked, floor to eye-height, with pillars of books. Mr. Hart led a life of near poverty, and “basically lived off of cans of beans.” Mr. Hart cobbled together a living with the money he earned as an adjunct professor and with grants and donations to Project Gutenberg.

Death


Hart died on September 6, 2011 of a heart attack at his home in Urbana, Illinois. He was 64.

Trivia


Michael Hart's email messages had equal line length paragraphs in monospaced font: he chose the wording in such a way that each line had the same number of characters.

Sample (from his last Newsletter, 21 July 2011):

As many of you know, just 5 years ago or so Australia's
Parliament voted a resolution to resist those copyright
extensions that had recently taken place in the US, EU,
and other locations, but only a few years later tumbled
into line after a few rounds of economic warfare levied
upon them by The Mouse or other long copyright holders.

External links

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Selected interviews:.....