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Hart (Wikipedia Photo)

Tacoma native and electronic book pioneer Michael S. Hart has died at the age of 64. Before Kindle, Nook or iPad entered the lexicon, Hart was tinkering with electronic books.

In 1971 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Hart created Project Gutenberg with the goal of making electronic copies of books available to the public. It became his life’s work.

After starting with the Declaration of Independence, Hart spent spent the bulk of his career working on ways to make electronic versions of books accessible to people. Today, there are more than 36,000 free eBooks available through Project Gutenberg, allowing customers titles to the PC, Kindle, Android or iOS devices.

Dr. Gregory B. Newby wrote in an obituary this week on the Project Gutenberg Web site:

Hart was an ardent technologist and futurist. A lifetime tinkerer, he acquired hands-on expertise with the technologies of the day: radio, hi-fi stereo, video equipment, and of course computers. He constantly looked into the future, to anticipate technological advances.

One of his favorite speculations was that someday, everyone would be able to have their own copy of the Project Gutenberg collection or whatever subset desired. This vision came true, thanks to the advent of large inexpensive computer disk drives, and to the ubiquity of portable mobile devices, such as cell phones.

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