Bush did his undergraduate work at Tufts College, where he later taught. His masters thesis (1913) included the invention of the Profile Tracer, used in surveying work to measure distances over uneven ground. In 1919, he joined MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering, where he stayed for twenty-five years. In 1932, he was appointed vice-president and dean. At this time, Bush worked on optical and photocomposition devices, as well as a machine for rapid selection from banks of microfilm.
Further positions followed: president of the Carnegie Institute in Washington, DC (1939); chair of National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (1939); director of Office of Scientific Research and Development. This last role was as presidential science advisor, which made him personally responsible for the 6,000 scientists involved in the war effort. During World War II, Bush worked on radar antenna profiles and the calculation of artillery firing tables. He proposed the development of an analogue computer, which later became the Rockefeller Differential Analyser.
Bush is the pivotal figure in hypertext research. His ground-breaking 1945 paper, "As We May Think," speculated on how a machine might be created to assist human reasoning, and introduced the idea of an easily accessible, individually configurable storehouse of knowledge. This machine, which he dubbed "memex," in various ways anticipated hypermedia and the World Wide Web by nearly half a century.