Charles William Bachman †
Born 11 December 1924, Manhattan, Kansas, USA
Died 13 July 2017, Lexington, Massachusetts, USA
Turing Award (1973) “for his outstanding contributions to database technology”
The Communications of the ACM published a comprehensive obituary reviewing the life and work of Charles William Bachman.
Bachman was born in the American Midwest, but did not stay there for long. His father was a famous football coach who moved with his family several times before settling in the state of Michigan. After military service in World War II, Bachman took a degree in Mechanical Engineering (B.S.) at Michigan State University, and completed a Masters in the same subject at the University of Pennsylvania in 1950.
Even as a teenager, Charles Bachman wanted to be an engineer, and once qualified, his initial interests at Dow Chemical (1950) lay in analyzing engineering alternatives and their costs for various technical projects. This lead to a transfer from Engineering to Finance, where he implemented a “Capital Allocation” project on punched card equipment. Bachman collected plant construction costs expended over the prior years, and current monthly production capacities and sent the values into a system of simultaneous and sequential equations, until all of the plant construction costs were allocated to a set of monthly product sales capacities. “How much capital has been invested to a ton-per-month of chloride gas capacity?” This was followed by a year in the Pricing Department, a year as a process engineer in the Saran plastic production plant, a year as the assistant plant manager in a polystyrene plastics production plant, and then three years as the founding manager of the new central data processing department. All in all, ten year of diversified manufacturing industry experience, seemed just like the right foundation to launch a new R & D career at General Electric.
In 1960, he moved to the Production Control Service of General Electric (GE) where his initial area of work was conceptualizing and architecting a new, general purpose, manufacturing information and control system. In order to achieve the required results he was lead to invent and implement the first general purpose, online transaction processing system (OLTP) and the first random access, database management system (DBMS). Up to this time, manufacturing control systems were batch oriented and would daily or weekly create incremental, manufacturing plans for the orders that had newly arrived. Existing plans were unchanged, even if they were no longer feasible. Expediters and their manual systems were left with the task to make everything to come out right and on schedule.
The new manufacturing control system relied on daily processing of new orders and feedback on existing orders from manufacturing departments and then would create new, “feasible” plans, based on the new reality. The ability to operate continually on a transaction-oriented basis, against a random access-oriented database, made the new approach feasible. “The GE Operation Research people argued for an “optimum” manufacturing plan approach, rather than our “feasible” approach.” The continually changing reality of the order backlog and the manufacturing process meant that the best of the manufacturing plan of the moment could quickly be obsolete, by a new reality and a new, best plan. “We were using 1960 computers which filled a room and had less power and less data storage capacity than today’s smart telephone.”
This database area of work was included when the computer division of GE was acquired by Honeywell in 1970. In the early 1970s Bachman began research on a “distributed systems architecture.” Work in this area lead to Bachman being appointed to chair the American National Standards work on “distributed systems” and quickly to be the chairman of the International Standards Organization’s subcommittee, SC16, “Open Systems Interconnection.” This lead to publication (1983) of ISO 7498, “Basic Reference Model of OSI.”
In 1981, Bachman began working for the software company Cullinane Database Systems, and two years later, he and his wife founded their own company, Bachman Information Systems. This company grew to over three hundred employees, worldwide, with a market capitalization of three hundred million dollars. In 1998 he retired to Arizona and started working as a freelance consultant.
Bachman was a member of various international committees for computer, database and communication standards. He was made a “Distinguished Fellow” of the British Computer Society in 1977.
Bachman has had a long interest in gardening, starting in his backyard working with his mother, then collecting orchid plants for Michigan State College, from the jungles of New Guinea. He built a series of gardens and greenhouses in Michigan, Connecticut, Arizona and Massachusetts, and this year he began building his third new garden in Lexington, MA.
Connie, Bachman’s wife of 62 years, died in 2012 and was survived by their four children, Chandini Margaret Bachman, Thomas Bachman, Sara Bachman Ducey, Jonathan Bachman, and five grandchildren and one great grandchild.