The relational model is widely recognized as one of the great technical innovations of the twentieth century. Ted described it and explored its implications in a series of staggeringly original research papers published between 1969 and 1981. The effect of those papers was twofold: First, they changed for good the way the IT world perceived the database management problem; second, they laid the foundation for a whole new industry. In fact, they provided the basis for a technology that has had, and continues to have, a major impact on the very fabric of our society. It is no exaggeration to say that Ted is the intellectual father of the modern database field.
To give an idea of the extent of Ted’s accomplishments, I will briefly survey some of his most significant contributions. The biggest of all was, of course, making database management into a science (thereby introducing clarity and rigor in the field). The relational model provided a theoretical framework within which a variety of important problems could be attacked scientifically. Ted first described his model in an IBM Research Report (RJ599) published on August 19, 1969, Derivability, Redundancy, and Consistency of Relations Stored in Large Data Banks. The following year he published a revised version of this paper, “A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks” (Communications of the ACM 13(6): 377–387), which is usually credited with being the seminal paper in the field.
Most of the novel ideas described in outline in the following paragraphs, as well as numerous subsequent technical developments, were foreshadowed in these first two papers; some of these ideas have still not been fully explored. In my opinion, everyone professionally involved in database management should read, and reread, at least one of these papers every year.
Incidentally, it is not as widely known that Ted not only invented the relational model in particular, he invented the whole concept of a data model in general (cf., “Data Models in Database Management,” ACM SIGMOD Record 11, No. 2 (February 1981)). For both the relational model and data models in general, he stressed the importance of the distinction between a data model and its physical implementation.