Jean Sammet

Tom Van Vleck had suggested I contact Jean Sammet. Jean has published extensively on programming languages and their history. (Her book, Programming Languages: History and Fundamentals, has been called the definitive work on early computer language development.)

I eventually found a current email address for her; today she responded that she didn’t know where to find the Fortran source, but suggested I contact Fran Allen and J.A.N. Lee.

David Padua

I ran across an article “The Fortran I Compiler” by David Padua in Computing in Science and Engineering, Volume 2, Number 1, (January/February 2000). It begins, “The Fortran I compiler was the first demonstration that it is possible to automatically generate efficient machine code from high-level languages. It has thus been enormously influential. This article presents a brief description of the techniques used in the Fortran I compiler for the parsing of expressions, loop optimization, and register allocation.”

I contacted David to see if by any chance he knew of someone with a copy of the source code. He didn’t but he and his colleague Sam Midkiff suggested contacting retired IBMers Fran Allen or Marty Hopkins.

Daniel N. Leeson

Daniel N. Leeson’s article “IBM FORTRAN Exhibit and Film” in the FORTRAN’S Twenty-Fifth Anniversary special issue of the Annals of the History of Computing mentions that materials were located in private collections, “two of which are unusually noteworthy”:

Roy Nutt and Harlan Herrick have both made a special effort to retain material from their early days in computing. Nutt possessed a microfilm of (allegedly) every document in the FORTRAN development offices at the time the product was released. He generously donated a copy to the IBM historical archives. Herrick’s collection of memorabilia was also extensive. For example, he owned the only known copy of IBM’s first FORTRAN film, made in Poughkeepsie about 1958, that showed how FORTRAN could be used to program a solution to “The Indian Problem” (a calculation demonstrating the effect of compound interest on the $24 said to have been paid for Manhattan Island).

Using Internet search engines and hints from the article (in 1984, Leeson had worked for IBM General Products Division in San Jose, California), I found Leeson’s phone number and called him today.

He was responsible for assembling both the museum-class exhibit and the film for the 1982 25th anniversary celebration for Fortran. He told me IBM had a facility in Armonk where they archived the last copy of every machine; he thinks it might still exist.

Leeson says he thinks it’s very unlikely that any copies of the source code survive. He speculated that Roy Nutt’s personal collection may have been lost when he died.

Update: On 7 July 2004, shortly after this weblog went public, Micah Nutt read this entry and posted a comment: “As one of Roy Nutt’s four children […] I am in custody of the FORTRAN microfilm; Ruth [Micah’s mother] has many boxes which I have yet to fully organize. Roy died of lung cancer June 14th 1990.”

The Library of Congress

My wife and I had dinner with John Backus tonight. He mentioned that he donated his papers to the Library of Congress. I searched the online catalog, and found the papers listed as not yet processed (LC Control Number: mm2003084968). John gave me a 13-page document listing some 211 items in the donated papers. I was pleased to see item 92: “A Church-Rosser property of closed applicative languages” by Paul McJones (IBM Research Report, 5/23/75).

John also gave me some extra copies of papers and photographs, including a photocopy of a 29-page memo whose front page says:


Programming Research Group
Applied Science Division
International Business Machines Corporation

November 10, 1954

Specifications for
The IBM Mathematical FORmula TRANslating System,

Copyright, 1954, by International Business Machines Corporation
590 Madison Avenue, New York, 22, New York

J.A.N. Lee’s annotated bibliography says this was probably written by John W. Backus, Harlan Herrick, and Irving Ziller; he notes, “This is the first formal proposal for the language FORTRAN. It lists the elements of the language that are proposed to be included in the eventual implementation, together with some suggestions for future extensions. It is interesting to match this proposal with the Programmer’s Reference Manual (1957) and to note that many of the ideas of later FORTRANs as well as ALGOL appear to have been given birth in this document.”

FORTRAN’s Twenty-Fifth Anniversary

Today I got my hands on a copy of “FORTRAN’s Twenty-Fifth Anniversary” — a special issue of the Annals of the History of Computing, Volume 6, Number 1 (January 1984). This was originally published by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies (AFIPS), but is now published by the IEEE Computer Society.

This informative issue, edited by J.A.N. Lee and H.S. Tropp, is dedicated to the 1982 National Computer Conference Pioneer Day celebration of the 25th anniversary of Fortran. It contains edited transcripts of two Pioneer Day sessions:

  • Early Days of FORTRAN, chaired by John Backus.
  • Institutionalization of FORTRAN, chaired by Jeanne Adams

It also contains:

  • an introduction by J.A.N. Lee with background on the event, a list of the FORTRAN Pioneers (“members of the original development team and their direct associates, or those who made significant contributions to the language or its usage in the five years following the delivery of the first system”) and implementations of FORTRAN from 1957 to 1967.
  • an article by Daniel N. Leeson on the exhibit and film developed by IBM for this event
  • an annotated bibliography by J.A.N. Lee
  • a collection of anecdotes by Henry S. Tropp
  • a summary of the anniversary observance held at IBM Santa Teresa on July 15, 1982
  • an edited version of Elliott Nohr’s SHARE 59 paper about the early days of FORTRAN

Full versions of papers presented verbally at the Pioneer Day event were also published in the Proceedings of the 1982 NCC; of especial interest is:

Allen, Frances E., “A Technological Review of the FORTRAN I Compiler“, pp. 805-809.

Update 2023/05/07: Added hyperlinks.