Thomas M. Whitney

Thomas M. Whitney

Thomas M. Whitney

INVENTOR OF THE WORLD’S FIRST SCIENTIFIC HANDHELD CALCULATOR

Major and graduation year: Electrical Engineering, BS ’61; MS ’62; PhD ’64

Calculating efforts: Alumnus Thomas Whitney joined Hewlett Packard in 1967. At Hewlett Packard, Whitney led a team of engineers that invented the world’s first handheld electronic scientific calculator, the HP 35. Named for its 35 buttons, the HP 35 was the first pocket calculator able to perform trigonometric functions. Before the HP 35, handheld calculators were only capable of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Further innovations: In 1978, Whitney joined Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak as one of the earliest employees of Apple Computer. Whitney served as the executive vice president for engineering. Working alongside Jobs and Jef Raskin, Whitney helped to develop the Apple II, the world’s first accessible and highly successful personal computer.

An untimely exit: After his Apple years, Whitney became an entrepreneur himself in 1981, launching several companies in Silicon Valley, California. He was a recipient of the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award from the ISU Alumni Association, as well as a recipient of the Professional Achievement Citation from the Iowa State University College of Engineering. Whitney passed away in 1986 at the age of 47.

Continued legacy: Whitney’s wife, Donna, has become active with Iowa State after her husband’s death. Donna Whitney established the Thomas M. Whitney Professorship of Electrical and Computer Engineering, a program that supports Iowa State University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering’s research, prominently in regards to nondestructive evaluation and solar energy research.