Gordon Foster

Last updated
F. Gordon Foster
Born(1921-02-24)24 February 1921
Died20 December 2010(2010-12-20) (aged 89)
Nationality Irish
Known for Foster's theorem
Scientific career
Doctoral advisor David George Kendall

Frederic Gordon Foster (24 February 1921 – 20 December 2010) [1] was an Irish computational engineer, statistician, professor, and college dean who is widely known for devising, in 1965, a nine-digit code upon which the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is based. [1]

Irish people Ethnic group, native to the island of Ireland, with shared history and culture

The Irish are a nation and ethnic group native to the island of Ireland, who share a common Irish ancestry, identity and culture. Ireland has been inhabited for about 12,500 years according to archaeological studies. For most of Ireland's recorded history, the Irish have been primarily a Gaelic people. From the 9th century, small numbers of Vikings settled in Ireland, becoming the Norse-Gaels. Anglo-Normans conquered parts of Ireland in the 12th century, while England's 16th/17th-century (re)conquest and colonisation of Ireland brought many English and Lowland Scots people to parts of the island, especially the north. Today, Ireland is made up of the Republic of Ireland and the smaller Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland hold various national identities including British, Irish, Northern Irish or some combination thereof.

International Standard Book Number Unique numeric book identifier

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency.



Foster was born in Belfast, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, between 1920 enactment and 1921 implementation of the partition of Ireland. He studied at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and began advanced study in mathematics at Queen's University Belfast. During World War II, he was recruited from Queen's by MI6 to work as a code-breaker at Bletchley Park.

Belfast City in the United Kingdom, capital of Northern Ireland

Belfast is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, standing on the banks of the River Lagan on the east coast of Northern Ireland. It is the 12th-largest city in the United Kingdom and the second-largest on the island of Ireland. It had a population of 333,871 as of 2015. Belfast suffered greatly in the Troubles: in the 1970s and 1980s it was reported to be one of the world's most dangerous cities, with a homicide rate around 31 per 100,000.

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Historical sovereign state from 1801 to 1921

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was a sovereign state established by the Acts of Union 1800, which merged the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland.

Partition of Ireland Division of the island of Ireland into two jurisdictions

The partition of Ireland was the process by which the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland divided the island of Ireland into two separate polities. It took place on 3 May 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. The smaller of the two, Northern Ireland, was duly created with a devolved administration and forms part of the United Kingdom today, but the larger one, intended as a home rule jurisdiction to be known as Southern Ireland, failed to gain acceptance. The territory instead became independent and is now a sovereign state also named Ireland and additionally described as the Republic of Ireland.

After the war he resumed studies at Magdalen College, Oxford. A lecture on feedback control by Norbert Wiener, regarded as the originator of cybernetics, proved to be a great influence on Foster's research. Upon completing his PhD at Magdalen, he accepted an offer to lecture on his research at the University of Manchester, where he met Alan Turing, a Bletchley Park veteran who became known as the father of computer science. Turing introduced him to the Manchester Mark I computer and enlisted his help working on it. In 1956 Foster joined the faculty of the London School of Economics (LSE), first as an assistant lecturer in statistics, then lecturer and reader. In 1964, he was appointed to the chair of computational methods. While at LSE he helped develop operations research as an academic discipline.

Magdalen College, Oxford constituent college of the University of Oxford in England

Magdalen College is a constituent college of the University of Oxford. It was founded in 1458 by William of Waynflete. Today, it is one of the wealthiest colleges, with a financial endowment of £273.2 million as of 2018, and one of the strongest academically, setting the record for the highest Norrington Score in 2010 and topping the table twice since then.

Norbert Wiener American mathematician

Norbert Wiener was an American mathematician and philosopher. He was a professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A child prodigy, Wiener later became an early researcher in stochastic and mathematical noise processes, contributing work relevant to electronic engineering, electronic communication, and control systems.

Cybernetics theory of communication and control based on regulatory feedback

Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems—their structures, constraints, and possibilities. Norbert Wiener defined cybernetics in 1948 as "the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine." In other words, it is the scientific study of how humans, animals and machines control and communicate with each other.

Most noteworthy, in 1965 while at the LSE, Gordon Foster was commissioned by WH Smith, the book publisher and bookseller, to develop a computerised filing system as part of the publisher's drive to modernise its growing company. Gordon Foster developed for WH Smith, a 9 digit code which he named the Standard Book Numbering System (SBN). This code was very successful and was rapidly adopted by all UK publishers and booksellers. In 1970, the International Standard Organisation (ISO) expanded the SBN to 10 digits by adding an initial zero and the code was renamed to become the International Book Numbering System: ISBN.

The ISBN was born, and is now used worldwide by all publishers and booksellers. [2] [3]

In 1967 Gordon Foster was asked by Trinity College Dublin to start a Department of Statistics, and became professor of statistics at Trinity College Dublin. He promoted statistical analysis and computer applications in several constituent schools and academic departments. He fostered a lively forward thinking postgraduate and undergraduate program, with courses highly applicable to current statistical problems of the day. He also set up the Statistics and Operations Research Laboratory, known for outreach to industry and public services. He was elected Dean of Engineering and System Sciences. [1]

Trinity College Dublin Sole college of the University of Dublin, founded 1592

Trinity College, officially the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, is the sole constituent college of the University of Dublin, a research university located in Dublin, Ireland. The college was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I as the "mother" of a new university, modelled after the collegiate universities of Oxford and Cambridge, but unlike these other ancient universities, only one college was ever established; as such, the designations "Trinity College" and "University of Dublin" are usually synonymous for practical purposes. The college is legally incorporated by "the Provost, Fellows, Foundation Scholars and other members of the Board" as outlined by its founding charter. It is one of the seven ancient universities of Britain and Ireland, as well as Ireland's oldest surviving university. Trinity College is widely considered the most prestigious university in Ireland, in part due to its extensive history. In accordance with the formula of ad eundem gradum, a form of recognition that exists among the three universities, a graduate of Oxford, Cambridge, or Dublin can be conferred with the equivalent degree at either of the other two universities without further examination. Trinity College, Dublin is a sister college to St John's College, Cambridge and Oriel College, Oxford.

Foster died in Dublin, 20 December 2010. [1]

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