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[ISN] Samuel Snyder, 96; Broke Codes And Designed Early Computers


December 31, 2007

Samuel S. Snyder, 96, who was honored this year for his contributions to 
code breaking during the 1940s and the conceptualization and design of 
computers in the 1950s at the National Security Agency and its 
predecessors, died Dec. 28 at Sunrise assistant living in Frederick 
after a heart attack.

In October, Mr. Snyder was inducted into the National Security 
Agency-Central Security Service hall of honor for his work, which began 
in 1936 with the U.S. Army's Signal Intelligence Service.

He was among the first 10 employees of the Signal Intelligence Service 
and became part of the inner circle of William Friedman, the dominant 
figure in U.S. code breaking. During World War II, Mr. Snyder led teams 
that successfully broke codes for the Japanese military attache system.

After the war, he was credited with having a major role in designing and 
building Abner, a massive computing system for breaking codes. It was 
named after the comics character Li'l Abner, "a big strong guy that 
didn't know anything," Mr. Snyder told the Baltimore Sun in 1995.

"Abner looked like hell," Mr. Snyder said. "But it was the most 
sophisticated computer of its time."

He had significant oversight responsibilities for the design and 
programming of later computing systems, including Harvest, an early 
general-purpose computer made with IBM that challenged Remington-Rand's 
then-dominant Univac model.

His hall of honor induction noted that his "pioneering work in early 
computers led directly to the development of the computer as we know it, 
and laid the foundation for many aspects of the modern computing 

Samuel Simon Snyder was born in Baltimore and raised in Washington, 
where he was a 1929 graduate of the old Central High School and a 1939 
graduate of George Washington University. He joined the Signal 
Intelligence Service in 1936 as an assistant cryptographic clerk.

From 1964 to 1966, he was coordinator of the Library of Congress's 
information systems office. He was among the creators of the library's 
Machine Readable Cataloging system that replaced the handwritten card 
with an electronic searchable database system that became the standard 

Mr. Snyder wrote a classified history of the NSA as well as "Man and the 
Computer" (1972) with anthropologist Ashley Montagu.

His honors include the Defense Department's Meritorious Civilian Service 
Award, and he was a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and 
Electronic Engineers.

His wife, Patricia Yakerson Snyder, whom he married in 1935, died in 
1996. A daughter, Elaine Hodges, died in 2006.

Survivors include four children, Dr. Solomon H. Snyder of Baltimore, 
Carolyn Snyder of Frederick, Irving Snyder of Leesburg and Joel Snyder 
of Takoma Park; nine grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

In 1949, Mr. Snyder was named The Washington Post Ideal Father of the 
Year during a Father's Day contest. One of his children, Elaine, wrote 
at the time: "Our pop is these things: mathematician, artist, scientist, 
house cleaner, sewer, dog harness maker, dog bather, can play the 
clarinet, saxophone, piccolo, story writer, best father in the world, we 

-- Adam Bernstein

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