By day, Claude Shannon labored on top-secret war projects at Bell Labs. By night, he worked out the details of information theory

Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman in IEEE Spectrum:

MjkyNDA4NALooking back on the last months of 1940, Claude Shannon was quite open about his desire to avoid the World War II draft: “Things were moving fast there, and I could smell the war coming along. And it seemed to me I would be safer working full-time for the war effort, safer against the draft, which I didn’t exactly fancy. I was a frail man, as I am now…. I was trying to play the game, to the best of my ability. But not only that, I thought I’d probably contribute a hell of a lot more.”

Shannon’s opportunity to contribute came at Bell Labs, which took him on board as a government contractor, and then as a full-time employee. His work for the war effort brought him to the Labs’ headquarters in Manhattan’s West Village, a scientific smorgasbord: chemical labs, vast production rooms, and “a warren of testing labs for phones, cables, switches, cords, coils, and a nearly uncountable assortment of other essential parts,” as the eminent U.S. engineer Vannevar Bush later described it.

With a host of new wartime projects under way and hundreds of new faces streaming through the office, including many in military uniforms, the thirteen stories on the Hudson’s edge felt especially chaotic. Even as several hundred Labs employees departed for active-duty service in the wake of Pearl Harbor, Bell’s in-house workforce swelled: 4,600 employees became over 9,000 in only a matter of a few years. More than 1,000 research projects were launched, each one a small piece of the war machine. The tempo picked up accordingly, and many of Shannon’s colleagues found themselves working six days a week.

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