Anna Kucirkova: the history of computer programming languages

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

This article misses all of the Lisps, and focuses mostly on Algol languages, but it does a nice overview of that branch of computer history, and how that branch gave us the syntax of modern popular languages like Javascript.

1883: That’s right, the first programming language was born in 1883. The algorithm for the Analytical Engine was created by Ada Lovelace for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine to compute Bernoulli numbers. This is widely considered to be the first computer programming language.

1952: Now we fast forward all the way to 1952 and Autocode. Autocode was a generic term for a family of early computer programming languages. The first was developed by Alick Glennie for the Mark 1 computer at the University of Manchester in the U.K. Autocode is considered to be the first compiled computer programming language, meaning that it can be translated directly into machine code using a compiler program.

1957: In 1957 the programming language FORTRAN was created by John Backus for complicated scientific, mathematical, and statistical work. The name FORTRAN stands for Formula Translation and is one of the oldest computer programming languages still used today.

1958: A year later in 1958, Algol was created by a committee for scientific use. Algol stands for Algorithmic Language, and it served as a starting point in the development of languages such as Pascal, C, C++, and Java.

1964: Jumping ahead to 1964, we have the programming language BASIC. It was developed by John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz at Dartmouth College. It was created for students who did not have a strong technical or mathematical understanding could still use computers. BASIC stands for Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. Bill Gates and Paul Allen wrote a modified version of BASIC which went on to become the first Microsoft product.

1972: In 1972, C was developed by Dennis Ritchie at Bell Labs. C is considered the first high-level language. A high-level computer programming language is closer to human language and more removed from the machine code. C was created so an operating system called Unix could be used on many different types of computers. It would go on to influence future languages such as Ruby, C#, Go, Java, JavaScript, Perl, PHP, and Python.

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