Michael S. Hart

Michael S. Hart
Michael Hart

Michael Hart (left) and Gregory Newby of Project Gutenberg at HOPE Conference, 2006
Born Michael Stern Hart
March 8, 1947(1947-03-08)
Tacoma, Washington, United States
Died September 6, 2011(2011-09-06) (aged 64)
Urbana, Illinois, United States
Nationality American
Occupation Author
Known for Project Gutenberg

Michael Stern Hart (March 8, 1947 – September 6, 2011)[1] was an American author, best known as the inventor of the electronic book (or ebook) and the founder of Project Gutenberg, a project to make ebooks freely available via the Internet.[1][2][3] Most of the early postings were typed in by Hart himself.


Early life

Michael Hart's father was an accountant and his mother, a former cryptanalyst during World War II, was a business manager at a retail store. In 1958 his family relocated to Urbana, Illinois, and his father and mother became college professors in Shakespearean studies and mathematics education, respectively. Hart attended the University of Illinois, graduating in just two years.[4] He then attended but did not complete graduate school. He was also, briefly, a street musician.[5]

Project Gutenberg

During Hart's time there, the University of Illinois computer center gave Hart a user's account on its computer system: Hart's brother's best friend was the mainframe operator.[6] Although the focus of computer use there tended to be data processing, Hart was aware that it was connected to a network (part of what would become the Internet) and chose to use his computer time for information distribution. Hart related that after his account was created on July 4, 1971, he had been trying to think of what to do with it and had seized upon a copy of the United States Declaration of Independence, which he had been given at a grocery store on his way home from watching fireworks that evening. He typed the text into the computer but was told that it would be unacceptable to transmit it to numerous people at once via e-mail.[6] Thus, to avoid crashing the system, he made the text available for people to download instead.

This was the beginning of Project Gutenberg. Hart began posting text copies of such classics as the Bible and the works of Homer, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain. As of 1987 he had typed in a total of 313 books in this fashion. Then, through being involved in the University of Illinois PC User Group and with assistance from Mark Zinzow, a programmer at the school, Hart was able to recruit volunteers and set up an infrastructure of mirror sites and mailing lists for the project. With this the project was able to grow much more rapidly.

The mission statements for the project were:

"Encourage the Creation and Distribution of eBooks"
"Help Break Down the Bars of Ignorance and Illiteracy"
"Give As Many eBooks to As Many People As Possible"[6]

Other activities

Hart was an author and his works are available free of charge on the Project Gutenberg server. He was also a member of the RepRap Project, which aims at creating a self-replicating machine.[7]

Personal life

He supported himself by doing odd jobs and used an unpaid appointment at Illinois Benedictine College to solicit donations for the project. "I know that sounds odd to most people, but I just never bought into the money system all that much. I never spent it when I got it. It's all a matter of perspective".[8]

Hart glided through life with many possessions and friends, but very few expenses. He used home remedies rather than seeing doctors, fixed his own house and car. He built many computers, stereos, and other gear, often from discarded components sacrificing personal luxury to fight for literacy, and for preservation of public domain rights and resources, towards the greater good.[1]

The man who spent a lifetime digitizing literature lived amidst the hard copies in his house in Urbana stacked, floor to eye-height, with pillars of books. Mr. Hart led a life of near poverty, and “basically lived off of cans of beans.” Mr. Hart cobbled together a living with the money he earned as an adjunct professor and with grants and donations to Project Gutenberg.[9]


Hart died on September 6, 2011 of a heart attack at his home in Urbana, Illinois. He was 64.[2][10]


Michael Hart's email messages had equal line length paragraphs in monospaced font: he chose the wording in such a way that each line had the same number of characters.

Sample (from his last Newsletter, 21 July 2011):[11]

As many of you know, just 5 years ago or so Australia's
Parliament voted a resolution to resist those copyright
extensions that had recently taken place in the US, EU,
and other locations, but only a few years later tumbled
into line after a few rounds of economic warfare levied
upon them by The Mouse or other long copyright holders.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Michael S. Hart, Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Michael_S._Hart 
  2. ^ a b Flood, Alison (8 September 2011). "Michael Hart, inventor of the ebook, dies aged 64". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/sep/08/michael-hart-inventor-ebook-dies. Retrieved 8 September 2011. 
  3. ^ Grimes, William (8 September 2011). "Michael Hart, a Pioneer of E-Books, Dies at 64". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/09/business/michael-hart-a-pioneer-of-e-books-dies-at-64.html?pagewanted=all. Retrieved 8 September 2011. 
  4. ^ "Open and Shut?: Interview with Michael Hart". Poynder. 9 March 2006. http://poynder.blogspot.com/2006/03/interview-with-michael-hart.html. 
  5. ^ "Michael Hart". The Economist. http://www.economist.com/node/21530075. Retrieved 2011-10-07. 
  6. ^ a b c Hart, Michael S, The History and Philosophy of Project Gutenberg, Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Gutenberg:The_History_and_Philosophy_of_Project_Gutenberg_by_Michael_Hart 
  7. ^ Michael Hart (1947–2011): Prophet of Abundance, UK: Computer World, 8 September 2011, http://blogs.computerworlduk.com/open-enterprise/2011/09/michael-hart-1947---2011-prophet-of-abundance/ 
  8. ^ Schofield, Jack (Sep 13, 2011), Michael Hart obituary, http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/sep/13/michael-hart-obituary, retrieved Sep 14, 2011 
  9. ^ Emily Langer (September 8, 2011). "Project Gutenberg creator Michael S. Hart dies at 64". The Washington Post (Washington DC: WPC). ISSN 0190-8286. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/project-gutenberg-creator-michael-s-hart-dies-at-64/2011/09/08/gIQA1DMFDK_story.html. Retrieved September 23, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Project Gutenberg Creator Michael S. Hart Dies at 64". The Washington Post. 8 September 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/project-gutenberg-creator-michael-s-hart-dies-at-64/2011/09/08/gIQA1DMFDK_story.html. Retrieved 9 September 2011. 
  11. ^ "[gmonthly] Project Gutenberg Monthly Newsletter". Lists.pglaf.org. http://lists.pglaf.org/pipermail/gmonthly/2011/000074.html. Retrieved 2011-10-07. 

External links

Selected interviews:

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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