Ted Kaczynski

Ted Kaczynski Biography.com

Ted Kaczynski is a mathematician best known for a campaign of letter bombs he sent as the 'Unabomber' over a nearly 20-year period, resulting in three fatalities.


Ted Kaczynski, also known as the “Unabomber,” was born on May 22, 1942, in Illinois. A mathematics prodigy, Kaczynski taught at the University of California at Berkeley before retreating to a survivalist lifestyle in the Montana woods. Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski mailed bombs to universities and airlines, killing three people and injuring 23 more. FBI agents arrested Kaczynski in 1996, and two years later he was sentenced to life in prison.

Early Years

Ted Kaczynski was born on May 22, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, the oldest child of a Polish American couple, Wanda and Theodore. As a baby, Kaczynski had an allergic reaction to some medication and spent time in isolation while recovering. Some reports indicate that he had a noticeable change in personality after being hospitalized. The arrival of his younger brother, David, also allegedly had a strong effect on him.

When he was a child, the family moved out of the city to Evergreen Park, a suburb of Chicago. Kaczynski's parents pushed him hard to achieve academic success. A bright child, Kaczynski skipped two grades during his early education. However, he was smaller than the other kids and regarded as "different" because of his intelligence. Still Kaczynski was active in school groups, including the German-language and chess clubs. In 1958, at the age of 16, Kaczynski entered Harvard University on a scholarship. There, he studied mathematics and participated in a psychological experiment conducted by professor Henry A. Murray. This experiment, too, is thought to have been a factor in Kaczynski's later activities. 

College Education

After graduating Harvard in 1962, Kaczynski continued his studies at the University of Michigan. While there, he taught classes and worked on his dissertation, which was widely praised. Kaczynski earned his doctoral degree from the university in 1967, then moved west to teach at the University of California, Berkeley.

Kaczynski struggled at Berkeley, having a hard time delivering his lectures and often avoiding contact with his students. He resigned his assistant professorship in 1969, and by the early 1970s had given up his old life and settled in Montana. He built himself a small cabin near Lincoln, where he lived in near-total isolation, hunting rabbits, growing vegetables, and spending much of his time reading. While living this remote, survivalist lifestyle, Kaczynski developed his own anti-government and anti-technology philosophy.

The 'Unabomber'

In 1978, Kaczynski moved back to Chicago to work in the same factory as his brother. While there, he had a relationship with a female supervisor, but it eventually turned sour. In retaliation, Kaczynski wrote crude limericks about her, which got him fired. His brother David, a supervisor himself, was the one that actually had to break the news to Ted.

That same year, Kaczynski made his first homemade bomb, which he sent to a Northwestern University professor. The letter was opened by a campus security officer, who sustained minor injuries when the bomb exploded. Another bomb was sent to the same university the following year, but by this time Kaczynski had returned to Montana.

Kaczynski then targeted American airline companies with two bombs—one in 1979 that failed to detonate on an American Airlines flight, and one in 1980 that was sent to the president of United Airlines, who sustained minor injuries after it exploded. Working with the U.S. Postal Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Federal Bureau of Investigation started up a task force to look into these mysterious attacks. The case was known by the acronym UNABOM, which stood for UNiversity and Airline BOMbing. Eventually, the unknown assailant came to be known as the "Unabomber."

National Threat

By 1982, Kaczynski's bombs became more destructive. A secretary at Vanderbilt University and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley both sustained serious injuries from Kaczynski's explosive packages. After a pause of several years, Kaczynski resumed his bombing campaign. His first fatality occurred in December 1985, when a computer store owner was killed by a device placed outside his shop. Over the next decade, Kaczynski would send numerous other bombs, resulting in two more deaths and many more injuries.

The big break in the case finally came in 1995, when Kaczynski sent out a 35,000-word essay on the problems of modern society. He even threatened media outlets, such as The New York Times, to publish his so-called "Unabomber Manifesto," telling them he would blow up a plane if they failed to do so. 

The manifesto was eventually published in September 1995, and shortly thereafter was read by Kaczynski's sister-in-law, Linda Patrik, who thought it could have been written by Ted and encouraged her husband to read it. Although he and Ted had become estranged over the years, David recognized the writing style and some of the ideas expressed as his brother's. After much deliberation and hiring a private detective to confirm his suspicions, in early 1996 David shared his suspicions with the FBI.


On April 3, 1996, federal investigators arrested Ted Kaczynski at his cabin in Montana. News outlets carried images of the bearded and disheveled Kaczynski, giving the country and the world its first glimpse of the infamous Unabomber. At his cabin, they found one completed bomb, other bomb parts and about 40,000 pages of his journals, in which he described his crimes in detail.

In January 1998, Kaczynski attempted suicide as he prepared to go on trial. He was insistent that his lawyers not use any type of insanity defense, and he rejected any implication that he was mentally ill. However, after a failed bid to represent himself in court, Kaczynski decided to plead guilty to 13 federal bombing-related charges. It has been thought that he made the deal to avoid the death penalty. He received four life sentences plus another 30 years for his actions.

Kaczynski is currently an inmate at the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative-Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado. For a time, he was housed in the same unit as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.

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