From the sixteenth century, computing people relied on printed mathematical tables in performing routine mathematical calculations. This volume, compiled by the Applied Mathematics Division of the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., was conceived in 1954 as “a Handbook of Tables for the Occasional Computer” (at the time a computer was usually a person). It includes formulas and graphs used in computation as well as a wide range of tables.
The first editor, Milton Abramowitz (1913-1958), began working with tables as a member of the Mathematical Tables Project in New York City. This was a program of the U.S. government’s Works Project Administration, begun in 1937 to provide work for the unemployed. Abramowitz had studied physics at Brooklyn College, but initially had no particular background in table making or numerical analysis. He would go on to earn a PhD. in mathematics from New York University. The second editor, Irene A. Stegun (1919-2008), joined the program in 1943, after she had received a master’s degree from Columbia University. By that time, the WPA had been terminated, and staff from project were doing computations needed by U.S. Navy and the Office of Scientific Research and Development for World War II efforts.
After the war ended, the Mathematical Tables Project moved to Washington, D.C., where it was incorporated into the Computation Laboratory of the newly established Applied Mathematics Division of the N.B.S. Project staff hoped to produce a compact set of tables that would provide a digest of work they had carried out over the past ten years. With advice from an outside panel and sponsorship from the National Science Foundation, Abramowitz, Stegun, and the collaborators began this volume, which was finally published in June of 1964, some years after Abramowitz had died.
The Handbook proved popular. A second printing appeared in November of 1964. This is an example of that printing. It was owned by Professor Charles T. G. Looney, who taught engineering at the University of Maryland. Looney stamped the edges of the book with his name and signed it just inside the cover, but did not add further annotations.
Scans of various editions of the Handbook are available online.
Ronald F. Boisvert and Daniel W. Lozier, “Handbook of Mathematical Functions,” in David R. Lide, ed., A Century of Excellence in Measurements, Standards, and Technology: A Chronicle of Selected NBS/NIST Publications, 1901-2000, NIST Special Publication 958, 2001, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, pp. 135-139.
David Alan Grier, “Irene Stegun, the Handbook of Mathematical Functions, and the Lingering Influence of the New Deal,” American Mathematical Monthly, 113 #7, August-September 2006, pp. 585-597.
Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.