Grigore Constantin Moisil

“New ideas appear first as paradoxes, then they become common truth and ultimately they die as prejudices.” (Grigore C. Moisil)

The Romanian mathematician and computer scientist Grigore C. Moisil was one of the pioneering forces in establishing the computer industry in Romania.

Grigore Constantin Moisil was born on January 10, 1906, in Tulcea, Romania. He was named not only after his grandfather Grigore, a clergyman, but also after his father Constantin, a historian and member of the Romanian Academy where he was the Director of the Numismatics Office (he was also a coin collector). Moisil’s mother Elena was a primary school teacher in Tulcea and it was she who taught the young Grigore to count and calculate, even before he started to read and write. Moisil was an inquisitive child, always asking the “why?” behind the things he noticed. He rather spent his time reading and studying than playing with other children. He attended primary school and high school in Bucharest. After graduation from high school in 1922, he attended the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Bucharest. His parents had more faith in a study in engineering and convinced him to attend the Polytech University of Bucharest as well. Although he did well, he didn’t enjoy this topic and in 1929 he quit the Polytech University. That same year he got his Ph.D. in Mathematics with a thesis on Analytical mechanics of continuous systems. The study was published in Paris and was favourably received by the mathematics world of that time. In 1930 he attended the University of Paris to further his studies in Mathematics, but in 1931 he returned to Romania to accept a teaching post at the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Iaşi. Here he wrote papers on many complex mathematical subjects and he developed and taught the first modern algebra course in Romania. In 1936 he was appointed Professor in Differential and Integral Calculus and in 1939 he also became Professor of Calculus. In 1941 he accepted an appointment as Professor in the Faculty of Mathematics – later to become the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science – at the University of Bucharest.

Romanian postal card, issued 1981, commemorating 75 years National Academy,
showing Moisil in both the stamp design and the cachet.
The card has been issued also in a brown color.

The first computer in Romania

After World War II Moisil started teaching mathematical logic as he understood that the new emerging field of computers would have enormous repercussions for the social fabric of society. He continued on the ideas of Shannon that electric circuits and binary logic have a commonality in that both use a system of yes/no or open/closed and in 1961-1962 he published his two-volume Transistor Circuits. He continued to publish his papers on mathematics, algebra, number theory, mechanics, mathematical logic and the study of automata theory, like The Algebraic Theory of Switching Circuits. He advocated the study of computers in Romania and encouraged his math students to study computer programming. That way he played an essential role in the development of the field of computer science in Romania. This resulted in the first Romanian computer – the CIFA-1 – being built in 1954 at the Institute for Atomic Physics at the Romanian Academy (CIFA is an abbreviation of the Romanian words for “Computer of the Institute for Atomic Physics). This computer used electronic vacuum tubes, a magnetic drum memory, punched paper tape (input) and produced its output on a typewriter. The machine was programmed in machine code and would later be followed by the CIFA-2 and CIFA-3 in the early sixties and the transistor-based CET in 1964.

Moisil died suddenly on May 21, 1973, during a trip to Canada, in Ottawa. Eight years later, the University of Bucharest's Faculty of Mathematics organized a seminar to commemorate his 75th birthday. In the opening address it was stated that “Prof Grigore C Moisil has fought with all his energy and perseverance in order to open the way to the understanding of mathematics in our country now and in the future. He has been aware of the importance of informatics, cybernetics and automata theory. He has created centres of computation.” He truly was Romania’s “father of computing science”.

Moisil’s legacy

As Moisil was the driving force behind the birth of the Romanian computer industry, it’s interesting to note how quite a few philatelic items show diverse elements of his legacy.

In 1971 the first microprocessor was introduced with a commemorative stamps being issued thirty years later. Production was done by the Industrial Group for Computer and Electronics Technology (ICE) and their products were exported to other east-bloc countries, P.R. China and other countries in Asia and Africa.

In 1972 the ICE Felix company manufactured the first third-generation Felix C-256 mainframe computer. Its underlying technology was originally licensed from France. Note the different years in the pictorial cancel above (1972-1997) vs the years in the stamp on the left (1947-1977) with the same design.

Already in 1975 Romania showed that in socialist countries women are equal to men’s tasks by showing a woman doing repairwork to a large mainframe’s inner workings (postal envelope (Cod 0337/75).

The results of the 1977 population census were captured in punched cards and processed via tabulating equipment, the forerunners of the later mainframe computers. This 1976 Romanian envelope (Cod 0369/76) attests to this fact in colorful fashion.

In the late seventies the first Romanian developed minicomputers were released – the Independent series (I-100, I-101, etc) – soon followed by the Coral minicomputer, a PC-like system with a large tower CPU.

A large number of computer companies are represented in Romania today as its computer industry has matured.

Moisil honored

In 1948 Moisil was elected to the Romanian Academy; he also was a member of the Academy of Sciences of Bologna. In 1996 the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Computer Society posthumously awards Moisil the “Computer Pioneer” Award.

© Wobbe Vegter, 2008

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