J. Francis Reintjes, 1912-2008

Remembering “the man who came to dinner and never left.” LIDS interview, 2006

MIT Professor Emeritus J. Francis Reintjes, celebrated for his keen wit and unassuming but steadfast leadership in electrical engineering (and computer science), passed away Feb. 21, 2008 after a brief illness. He was 96.

J. Francis Reintjes, 1912-2008

J. Francis Reintjes, 1912-2008

During his long career as electrical engineer, educator, and researcher, Frank Reintjes’ work touched many of the technological advances of the 20th century.

After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, Reintjes became an engineer with General Motors in Lockport, N.Y. and subsequently taught electrical engineering at Manhattan College in New York City before launching into his 65 year affiliation with MIT.

Reintjes playfully described himself in a 2006 interview for the MIT Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, LIDS, as “the man who came to dinner and never left.” The dinner was a gathering in Boston of the Institute for Radio Engineers at which he met and was later invited by Dr. W.L. Barrow of MIT to become involved in the new radar school at MIT. He arranged for a leave of absence from his position at Manhattan College and joined MIT in 1943. Other than a year at General Electric in 1946, Reintjes stuck with academia and returned to MIT on a faculty appointment in 1947.

Frank Reintjes in the Electronic Systems Laboratory (ESL) circa 1959.

Frank Reintjes in the Electronic Systems Laboratory (ESL) circa 1959.

At MIT Reintjes’ research interests expanded from the areas of radar and electronics, and early information storage and retrieval to applications of computer-communications technologies. After five years working as a research staff member in the Research Lab of Electronics, Reintjes took on the directorship of the Servo Lab, started by Prof. Gordon S. Brown in 1939 at the request of the US Navy for emphasis on servomechanisms and fire control.

Although he referred to the early Servo Lab as a kind of ‘military job shop,’ Reintjes was well aware of the need to build its theoretical and academic side. With added faculty through the 50’s, the lab, renamed the Electronic Systems Laboratory, ESL in 1959, became a haven for not only masters but for doctoral studies. Thesis research through the 60s averaged 47 per year—not only in electrical engineering, but spilling into chemical and mechanical engineering, physics, mathematics, biology, nutrition and food science and aeronautical and astronautical engineering. ESL continued to prosper, ultimately taking on its current, independent lab status and from 1978 became the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, LIDS.

When Reintjes stepped down from leadership of ESL in 1974, he moved on to other key interests including heading up Project INTREX, a program of ‘information transfer experiments’ designed to advance information storage and retrieval in libraries. In a sense, Reintjes had launched the first search ‘engine’ system using general-purpose computers to locate research in professional literature.

Reintjes’ interest in pairing academia with industry throughout his career eventually paved the way for his taking on directorship in 1960 of the MIT VI-A Cooperative (Internship) Program in Electrical Engineering. He opened up the program by putting admission to the VI-A MS degree on the same academic requirements scale as admission throughout the EE Department and spread the scope of administrative involvement across the Department by assigning faculty members to take charge of the cooperative relationships with each of the companies, a practice still followed by VI-A today.

Retirement in 1978 did not hold Frank Reintjes back from remaining an involved presence in the EECS Dept. and LIDS. He returned weekly, attending events and meetings and often serving as the best source for historical information. He was remembered in the May, 2006 edition of LIDS|ALL, as “friendly, funny and inspiring.”

Frank Reintjes’ daughter, Ellen Reintjes Tatzin, recollected how “MIT was a family affair in our household.” Ellen received her MIT SB in Urban Studies and Planning in 1973 and her Master’s in City Planning (MCP). at MIT in 1974. Frank’s wife, Elizabeth A. Walsh, who passed away May 19, 2007, contributed many hours of service to the MIT Women’s League, including 30 years of teaching English as a second language to the spouses of international students at MIT. Their son John Reintjes received an SB in Physics from MIT in 1966. Frank Reintjes is also survived by his son William F. Reintjes of Annandale, VA.

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2 Responses to “J. Francis Reintjes, 1912-2008”

  1. eecsnewsletter says:

    thanks Kerstin. We appreciate feedback (and that we can grab our readers at 3am) but we post only comments which either add to the content of the articles or represent a legitimate edit of the information.

  2. W. Scott Nainis says:

    Thanks for the description of Prof. Frank Reintjes’ career at MIT. He was my advisor as a coop student and also a graduate student at MIT during 1963-1969. He was helpful and was always there to listen and given sage and practical advice. I worked at ESL as a grad student and felt I could talk to Prof. Reintjes and well as the late Prof. George Newton who was also there back then. Such men were pioneers and are not easily replaced.

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