Dr. Donald L. Shell
Dr. Donald L. Shell is best known in computer science as the author of the Shellsort.
Donald Shell was born in 1924 on a farm near Croswell, Michigan in the “Thumb” district. Because of his eagerness for education he was enrolled at the local school house and started on March 1, on his sixth birthday. He progressed quickly through the grades and went to Michigan Technological University where he acquired a BS in Civil Engineering in three years. He went straight from there into the Army Corps of Engineers to help repair damage in the Philippines during WWII.
Upon returning to the States after the war, he married Alice McCullough from Lima, Ohio and returned to Michigan Tech to teach mathematics. Several years later he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where he began working for General Electric’s engines division. At GE he designed a specialized convergence algorithm and wrote the program using this algorithm to perform calculations for the performance cycle for aircraft jet engine. He also attended the University of Cincinnati where he acquired an M.S. in Mathematics in 1951. Donald Shell wrote the Shellsort while working for GE and published it in the Communications of the ACM, Volume 2 Number 7, July 1959. Donald Shell acquired his Ph.D. in Mathematics in 1959 from the University of Cincinnati.
Shortly after acquiring his PhD, Dr. Shell moved to Schenectady, New York. There he became Manager of Engineering for a new department of GE which came to be known as the Information Services Department. This department of GE was the first commercial enterprise to link together computers with a technique that has come to be known as the client-server model. He worked in close cooperation with John Kemeny and Tom Kurtz of Dartmouth to commercialize the first time sharing system. This time sharing system helped popularize the BASIC programming language. The network for this system grew quickly to where in the ‘60s any customer of GE’s time sharing system could dial into the system with a local phone call from any major city in the world.
In 1972, Dr. Shell joined with Mr. Ralph Mosher, a close friend and colleague, to start a business called Robotics Inc. Dr. Shell was the General Manager and chief software engineer for Robotics Inc. which made robotic manipulators for automotive assembly lines. Four years later after great success, they sold the company, and Dr. Shell returned to General Electric Information Services Corporation, which had become a wholly owned subsidiary of GE.
Dr. Donald L. Shell retired in 1984 and move to North Carolina where he still lives. He has spent his retirement years overseeing church activities and a mission organization. He spends part of his time writing special software for missions organizations.