59th Anniversary of the First FORTRAN Program

A UNIX “calendar” command reports that today is 59 years after the first FORTRAN program ran. In 1953 John W. Backus proposed FORTRAN as a more practical alternative to assembly language, and development began in 1954. On the 20th September 1954 Harlan Herrick – a member of Backus’ group and inventor of the “DO” and “GOTO” statements – ran the first program. Instead of the planned 6 months, the team took 3 years to produce the commercial version presented in February 1957 at the Western Joint Computer Conference in Los Angeles. While FORTRAN may not have been the first High Level Language (HLL), it was the first one to run faster than assembly. The community was skeptical about HLL, because they believed that hand-coding would always perform better. FORTRAN managed to reduce the number of programming statements (by a factor of 20) as well as compete in performance. As to the motivation for his work John Backus stated in 1979 interview with Think, the IBM magazine: “Much of my work has come from being lazy. I didn’t like writing programs, and so, when I was working on the IBM 701, writing programs for computing missile trajectories, I started work on a programming system to make it easier to write programs.”.

References:

First FORTRAN manual:

http://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/text/Fortran/102679231.05.01.acc.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortran

http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/ibm100/us/en/icons/fortran

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