[Asis-l] Inventory of Relational Databases Dies ... Edgar F. Codd

Garfield, Eugene Garfield at codex.cis.upenn.edu
Tue Apr 29 14:31:25 EDT 2003


The New York Times.

April 23, 2003

Edgar Codd, Key Theorist of Databases, Dies at 79


   Edgar F. Codd, a mathematician and computer scientist who laid the 
theoretical foundation for relational databases, the standard method by 
which information is  organized in and retrieved from computers, died on 
Friday at his home in Williams Island, Fla. He was 79.

The cause was heart failure, said his wife, Sharon B. Codd.

Computers can store vast amounts of data. But before Dr. Codd's work found 
its way into commercial products, electronic databases were "completely ad 
hoc and higgledy-piggledy," said Chris Date, a database expert and former 
business partner of Dr. Codd's, who was known as Ted.

Dr. Codd's idea, based on mathematical set theory, was to store data in 
cross-referenced tables, allowing the information to be presented in 
multiple permutations. For instance, a user could ask the computer for a 
list of all baseball players from both the National League and the American 
League with batting averages over .300.

Relational databases now lie at the heart of systems ranging from hospitals'

patient records to airline flights and schedules.

While working as a researcher at the I.B.M. San Jose Research Laboratory in 
the 1960's and 70's, Dr. Codd wrote several papers outlining his ideas. To 
his frustration, I.B.M. largely ignored his work, as the company was 
investing heavily at the time in commercializing a different type of 
database system.

"His approach was not, shall we say, welcomed with open arms at I.B.M.," 
said Harwood Kolsky, a physicist who worked with Dr. Codd at I.B.M. in the 
1950's and 60's. "It was a revolutionary approach."

It was not until 1978 that Frank T. Cary, then chairman and chief executive 
of I.B.M., ordered the company to build a product based on Dr. Codd's ideas.

But I.B.M. was beaten to the market by Lawrence J. Ellison, a Silicon Valley

entrepreneur, who used Dr. Codd's papers as the basis of a product around 
which he built a start-up company that has since become the Oracle 

"The sad thing is that Ted never became rich out of his idea," Mr. Date 
said. "Other people did, but not Ted."

Edgar Frank Codd was born the youngest of seven children in Portland Bill, 
in Dorset, England, in 1923. His father was a leather manufacturer, his 
mother a schoolteacher.

He attended Oxford University on a full scholarship, studying mathematics 
and chemistry. During World War II, he was a pilot with the Royal Air Force.

In 1948 he moved to New York and, hearing that I.B.M. was hiring 
mathematicians, obtained a job there as a researcher.

A few years later, in 1953, angered by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's pursuit 
of Americans he said had Communist ties or sympathies, Dr. Codd moved to 
Ottawa for several years.

After returning to the United States, he began graduate studies at the 
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he received his doctorate in 
computer science in 1965. In 1967, he moved to California to work in the 
I.B.M. San Jose Research Laboratory. 

He and his first wife, Elizabeth, were divorced in 1978. In 1990, Dr. Codd 
married Sharon Weinberg, a mathematician and I.B.M. colleague.

In 1981, he received the A. M. Turing Award, the highest honor in the 
computer science field.

Dr. Codd is survived by his wife, of Williams Island; a daughter, Katherine 
Codd Clark of Palo Alto, Calif.; three sons, Ronald, of Alamo, Calif., 
Frank, of Castro Valley, Calif., and David, of Boca Raton, Fla.; and six 

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Eugene Garfield, PhD.  email: garfield at codex.cis.upenn.edu 
home page: www.eugenegarfield.org
Tel: 215-243-2205 Fax 215-387-1266
President, The Scientist LLC. www.the-scientist.com
Chairman Emeritus, ISI www.isinet.com
Past President, American Society for Information Science and Technology
(ASIS&T)  www.asis.org

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