David Karpeles died on January 19, 2022, at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, the same hospital where he was born in 1936. A mathematician and philanthropist, Karpeles is renowned for the 16 museums that bear his name, many of which he built to house his extensive manuscript collection, including one on Anapamu Street in Santa Barbara.

David Karpeles | Credit: Courtesy

After his mother saw a Japanese submarine offshore in 1942, the family moved to Duluth, and David graduated cum laude in mathematics and physics from the University of Minnesota. He had a wide-ranging career that began at Remington Rand Univac in St. Paul, then at the company’s research unit in San Diego, where he completed his master’s in mathematics before moving to Santa Barbara as a research analyst for General Electric Tempo in 1963. There, he proposed an optical character-recognition program that was eventually used to read bank checks and verify signatures. He also developed an early artificial intelligence program that analyzed the syntax of a question in English and gave appropriate answers.

Karpeles also taught at an extension of the University of Southern California, S.B. City College, and Westmont College while he worked in the nascent technology industry. He began to invest in real estate in 1968 and became known for offering tenants financing options so they could become first-time homeowners. In 1981, Governor Jerry Brown recognized Karpeles with an affordable housing competition award.

The manuscripts that made Karpeles a widely known name run the gamut of literature, science, religion, political history, music, exploration, and art, and include writings surrounding the origin of the Declaration of Independence as well as first editions of published books. David Karpeles’s collection was the largest privately owned set of manuscripts in the world, and he opened his museum doors free of charge, with the goal of stimulating an interest in learning, especially among children. One of his children, Jason Karpeles, stated the museum in Santa Barbara operated on an endowment, though the family is still deciding on which of the museums they will concentrate.

Karpeles is survived by his wife, Marsha — they were married in 1957 — their four children and their spouses, 10 grandchildren, and the family of his brother, Elliott.

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