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Edward E. Zajac

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Biography

Born: January 1926

Died: 30 January 2011

Edward E. Zajac hailed from the south side of Cleveland, an old Polish and Ukrainian quarter where most of the residents worked in the heavy industries along the infamously flammable Cuyahoga River. After coming of age, Z applied to the Case School of Applied Science (now Case Western) but there was little surprise when the draft board called has name and sent him off to Fort Hood before the Fall semester could start. He served as a radioman in a tank division in Germany, and was prepared to shipped to the Pacific Theater when the Bombs dropped and the war came to an abrupt end.

With the GI Bill, Zajac completed a degree in Mechanical Engineering at Cornell, and then went on to Princeton University to complete a Masters Degree in its engineering department. His dissatisfaction with that “mediocre” program spurred him to switch to Stanford, where he completed his PhD in 1950. And from there he was hired into AT&T’s Bell Laboratories where he joined the Mathematics Research Department. His early work in the Labs was developing the math required for the two-gyro stabilization mechanism of the pioneering orbital communications satellites then being developed by John Pierce and others at Bell Labs. To demonstrate his developments, Zajac designed the world’s first computer animation.

Then, in the 1960s, AT&T was nabbed by the Federal Communications Commission for predatory pricing practices. In retrospect it was decided that the company lost the case because the government had more sophisticated economists on its side, and so, although Bell Labs was typically a technical and scientific research institutions, a new team of economists was cobbled together to prepare for future battles. Throughout its existence, AT&T was always dogged by anti-trust and unfair business practices suits, but while classically these were fought on legal grounds, by the post-War era the incredibly influential field of economics was increasingly the language by which these suits were settled. Zajac was appointed to head these dozen or so economists. He described the group’s work this way: “We tried to preempt the parts of economics that might be used by opposition economists giving anti-Bell expert testimony. The idea was that any economist contemplating testifying against Bell would find that we were there first and had published seminal papers in top academic journals on the very subject of his testimony.”

When Bell Labs was finally broken up by a federal anti-trust suit in 1982, Zajac shifted gears and moved to Tucson to join the Economics Department of the University of Arizona, from which he retired in 1991. Subsequently, he published Political Economy of Fairness in 1996.

Edward Zajac died on 30 January 2011 at the age of 85 in Lubbock, Texas.

Further Reading

Bell Labs Memoirs: Voices of Innovation