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FORTRAN: The First Widely Used First High-Level Programming Language (1957)

In 1957 John Backus and his team at IBM shipped FORTRAN for the IBM 704. This software, proprietary to IBM, became the first widely-used high-level programming language.

"Fortran, released in 1957, was 'the turning point' in computer software, much as the microprocessor was a giant step forward in hardware, according to J.A.N. Lee, a leading computer historian.

"Fortran changed the terms of communication between humans and computers, moving up a level to a language that was more comprehensible by humans. So Fortran, in computing vernacular, is considered the first successful higher-level language.

"Mr. Backus and his youthful team, then all in their 20s and 30s, devised a programming language that resembled a combination of English shorthand and algebra. Fortran, short for Formula Translator, was very similar to the algebraic formulas that scientists and engineers used in their daily work. With some training, they were no longer dependent on a programming priesthood to translate their science and engineering problems into a language a computer would understand.

"In an interview several years ago, Ken Thompson, who developed the Unix operating system at Bell Labs in 1969, observed that '95 percent of the people who programmed in the early years would never have done it without Fortran' " (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/20/business/20backus.html, accessed 10-22-2013).

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