John von Neumann


John von Neumann : biography

28 December 1903 – 8 February 1957


  • The John von Neumann Theory Prize of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS, previously TIMS-ORSA) is awarded annually to an individual (or group) who have made fundamental and sustained contributions to theory in operations research and the management sciences.
  • The IEEE John von Neumann Medal is awarded annually by the IEEE "for outstanding achievements in computer-related science and technology."
  • The John von Neumann Lecture is given annually at the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) by a researcher who has contributed to applied mathematics, and the chosen lecturer is also awarded a monetary prize.
  • The crater von Neumann on the Moon is named after him.
  • The John von Neumann Computing Center in Princeton, New Jersey () was named in his honour.
  • The professional society of Hungarian computer scientists, John von Neumann Computer Society, is named after John von Neumann.
  • On February 15, 1956, Neumann was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Dwight Eisenhower.
  • On May 4, 2005 the United States Postal Service issued the American Scientists commemorative postage stamp series, a set of four 37-cent self-adhesive stamps in several configurations designed by artist Victor Stabin. The scientists depicted were John von Neumann, Barbara McClintock, Josiah Willard Gibbs, and Richard Feynman.
  • The John von Neumann Award of the Rajk László College for Advanced Studies was named in his honour, and has been given every year since 1995 to professors who have made an outstanding contribution to the exact social sciences and through their work have strongly influenced the professional development and thinking of the members of the college.

Info Park and Neumann János Street

Infopark is situated in the 11th district of Budapest, near the Buda side of Rákóczi bridge, in the university neighborhood, across the river from the National Theatre and the Palace of Arts. The streets bordering Infopark are Hevesy György Street, Boulevard of Hungarian Scientists, Street of Hungarian Nobel Prize Winners and Neumann János street.

Personal life

Von Neumann married twice. He married Mariette Kövesi in 1930, just prior to immigrating to the United States. They had one daughter (von Neumann’s only child), Marina, who is now a distinguished professor of international trade and public policy at the University of Michigan. The couple divorced in 1937. In 1938, von Neumann married Klara Dan, whom he had met during his last trips back to Budapest prior to the outbreak of World War II. The von Neumanns were very active socially within the Princeton academic community.

Von Neumann had a wide range of cultural interests. Since the age of six, von Neumann had been fluent in Latin and ancient Greek, and he held a lifelong passion for ancient history, being renowned for his prodigious historical knowledge. A professor of Byzantine history once said that von Neumann had greater expertise in Byzantine history than he did.Blair, pp. 89–104.

Von Neumann took great care over his clothing, and would always wear formal suits, once riding down the Grand Canyon astride a mule in a three-piece pin-stripe. Mathematician David Hilbert is reported to have asked at von Neumann’s 1926 doctoral exam: “Pray, who is the candidate’s tailor?” as he had never seen such beautiful evening clothes.

He was sociable and, during his first marriage, he enjoyed throwing large parties at his home in Princeton, occasionally twice a week.MacRae, pp. 170–171 His white clapboard house at 26 Westcott Road was one of the largest in Princeton.Ed Regis. Who Got Einstein’s Office?: Eccentricity and Genius at the Institute for Advanced Study. Perseus Books 1988 p. 103 ISBN 0671699237.

Despite being a notoriously bad driver, he nonetheless enjoyed driving (frequently while reading a book)—occasioning numerous arrests as well as accidents. When Cuthbert Hurd hired him as a consultant to IBM, Hurd often quietly paid the fines for his traffic tickets. He believed that much of his mathematical thought occurred intuitively, and he would often go to sleep with a problem unsolved, and know the answer immediately upon waking up.

Von Neumann liked to eat and drink; his wife, Klara, said that he could count everything except calories. He enjoyed Yiddish and "off-color" humor (especially limericks). At Princeton he received complaints for regularly playing extremely loud German marching music on his gramophone, which distracted those in neighbouring offices, including Einstein, from their work.MacRae, p. 48 Von Neumann did some of his best work blazingly fast in noisy, chaotic environments, and once admonished his wife for preparing a quiet study for him to work in. He never used it, preferring the couple’s living room with its TV playing loudly.

Von Neumann’s closest friend in the United States was the Polish mathematician Stanislaw Ulam. A later friend of Ulam’s, Gian-Carlo Rota writes: "They would spend hours on end gossiping and giggling, swapping Jewish jokes, and drifting in and out of mathematical talk." When von Neumann was dying in hospital, every time Ulam would visit he would come prepared with a new collection of jokes to cheer up his friend.From Cardinals To Chaos: Reflections On The Life And Legacy Of Stanislaw Ulam, Necia Grant Cooper, Roger Eckhardt, Nancy Shera, CUP Archive, 1989, Chapter: "The Lost Cafe" by Gian-Carlo Rota, ISBN 0521367344.