Carl Norden was born Carel Lucas van Norden on 23 April 1880 in the Dutch colony of Semerang, Java (now Indonesia). After attending a boarding school in Barneveld, Netherlands, he was educated at the ETH, Zürich (now known as the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) in Switzerland. He graduated as a mechanical engineer in 1904 and then emigrated to the United States.

Norden worked for two years for the Worthington Pump and Machine Company in Brooklyn and from 1906 to 1911 at the J. H. Lidgerwood Manufacturing Company before moving to the Sperry Gyroscope Company.

Along with Elmer Sperry, Norden worked on the first gyrostabilizers for United States ships, and became recognized for his contributions to military hardware. In 1913, he left Sperry to form his own company. In 1920, he began work on the Norden bombsight for the United States Navy. A prototype was available by 1923 and the first bombsight, containing an analog computer, was produced in 1927. Bombardiers were trained in great secrecy on how to use it. The device was used to drop bombs from high-altitude aircraft, accurately enough in practice to hit a 30 metre (100-ft) circle from an altitude of 6,400 metres (21,000 ft), but this accuracy was never achieved in combat.

Norden died on 14 June 1965 in Zürich, Switzerland and was inducted into the US National Aviation Hall of Fame in July 1994.

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