Department of Mathematical Sciences

History of Mathematical Sciences at Clemson University

Merrill Palmer

Palmer

Professor Merrill Palmer came to Clemson College in 1956. He received his education from Chattanooga College (BS), Vanderbilt University (MA), and did further graduate work at Washington University in St. Louis. He also attended summer graduate programs at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Pittsburgh. His first teaching job was at Wisconsin State College at Superior and then at Westminster College in Pennsylvania. Early in his Clemson teaching career one of his students was Dr. Poole's son. (Dr. Poole was Clemson College's president at the time.) The son wasn't interested in the course and his grades were poor. Merrill consulted with his department Head, Professor Sheldon, who told him to treat this special student just as he did all the others and Merrill would not be blamed. The student failed and the rumor was that Dr. Poole responding to an irate parent about his mathematics teacher said something to the effect that it had been demonstrated that he had no influence with the department with regards to grades.

In 1960 Merrill proposed a course in linear algebra to Professor Kinard who was in charge of the Arts and Sciences School at Clemson. Professor Kinard rejected this course as being too theoretical for non-mathematics majors so that enrollment would not be sufficient to run the course. The next year Merrill made a proposal for a course in applied linear programming and emphasized the practical nature of the course. This course was approved. While teaching this new course, the School of Agriculture stated that there was a need for linear programming for more variables and a need for computational statistical tools and would supply 50% of the funds for a computer. Clemson found the remaining funds and a RPC 4000 was purchased. This rotating drum machine had a capacity of 8000 words of 32 bits (256K) and had a tape input. The College Dean, Jack Williams, learned that Merrill had experience in linear programming and in statistics and asked him to become the Director of the Computer Center. Since Merrill didn't know anything about computers, he was sent to Chicago for a two-week training course.

The initial location for the computer was a room in the P&A building; however as soon as Martin Hall became available it was relocated to Martin O-10 and staff occupied a few rooms in the basement of the O building. Merrill's initial tasks were to write programs to solve linear programming problems and to perform statistical studies. Professor Palmer also taught a programming course for the mathematics department. Professor Charles Kirkwood and students were early helpers in the Center's efforts but eventually the staff grew to about 20 full-time workers. Later an IBM 360 model 40 was purchased and installed in Martin O-10 but the operation soon overwhelmed the space available and was moved to the basement of the P&A building. Professor Palmer was Director of the Center for 14 years, then returned to teach full time in the Mathematical Sciences Department until his retirement. He was a popular teacher with good ability to communicate with the students. During his time with the Computer Center the computer was upgraded to an IBM 360 model 60 and some Courier 3270 terminals and printers were distributed around the campus for local connections to the mainframe computer.

Merrill Palmer pursued his interest in music until his death in December 2004. He was the director of several choirs and sang in the Clemson, Anderson, and Greenville chorales. He and his wife Charlotte had been active members of the Sierra Club and were avid bikers until their health restrained these activities. Their four sons are living in scattered locations.


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