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Early Days of FORTRAN: Early Computers and Computing Institutions

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129427D
Original Publication Date: 1984-Jan-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 2 page(s) / 17K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

JOHN C. McPHERSON: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

To open the subject of the history of FORTRAN, I want to pose a question: why was FORTRAN created where and when it was? This gives me a chance to go back into some of the early history of computing. For a quarter of a century before 1955, punched-card machines were automating number handling and record keeping in the office. IBM was selling not only its machines, but also its assistance in installing and maintaining machines. Education of its sales representatives, customers, and prospective customers was a major activity of the company. The company sought the aid of university professors in setting up its school; Thomas J. Watson, Sr., was anxious to find ways of helping the education field, although this was clearly not part of our commercial business.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1984 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Early Days of FORTRAN: Early Computers and Computing Institutions

JOHN C. McPHERSON

  (Image Omitted: Author's Address: J. C. McPherson, P.O. Box 333, Short Hills, NJ 07078. * Wallace J. Eckert, Punched Card Methods in Scientific Computation, T. J. Watson Astronomical Computing Bureau, Columbia University, 1940: G. W. Baehne (ed.), Practical Applications of the Punched Card Method in Colleges and Universities, Columbia University Press, 1935.)

To open the subject of the history of FORTRAN, I want to pose a question: why was FORTRAN created where and when it was? This gives me a chance to go back into some of the early history of computing. For a quarter of a century before 1955, punched-card machines were automating number handling and record keeping in the office. IBM was selling not only its machines, but also its assistance in installing and maintaining machines. Education of its sales representatives, customers, and prospective customers was a major activity of the company. The company sought the aid of university professors in setting up its school; Thomas J. Watson, Sr., was anxious to find ways of helping the education field, although this was clearly not part of our commercial business.

During the 1930s and 1940s, IBM gave a set of machines to Benjamin D. Wood, of the Statistical Bureau at Columbia University, for research work. We later set up the Astronomical Computing Bureau at Columbia, in association with the American Astronomical Society and Columbia University. A few years later, IBM undertook the development of the first really large- scale computer, for Harvard University -- the Harvard Mark I (the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator). During that period, two IBMers (Eckert was a future IBMer) wrote books on the use of punched cards in research and the sciences.* These books really inaugurated the use of punched cards as scientific adjuncts.

During the course of World War II, Eckert went to the Naval Observatory to set up and rapidly produce the American Air Almanac for flyers. (Data produced by the German Nautical Almanac Office had been used earlier.) As a result of this and the war, major impetus was given to automatic calculations. Some 30 organizations, including Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Naval Observatory, Grumman Aircraft, Curtiss-Wright, and most of the airplane companies, were making effective use of punched-card machines for automatic calculation by the end of the war.

Right after the war in 1946, we were able to add to the punched-card machines the 603 electronic multiplier that had been developed by Byron Phelps at IBM Endicott in the early 1940s. After announcing that first electronic calculator and immediately putting it on the market, we brought out the 604, which was a programmed electronic ca...