[SIGCIS-Members] COBOL history

Burtgrad at aol.com Burtgrad at aol.com
Mon Oct 6 09:23:14 PDT 2014

As a practitioner, not a historian, I can't debate the details of the  
creation of COBOL. But I joined Bob Bemer's group in IBM's Data Processing  
Division in February, 1960 (Roy Goldfinger was part of that group). IBM had  
designed COMTRAN as the counterpart of FORTRAN and planned to make the language 
 available for use by any manufacturer or user company just as it had with  
FORTRAN. The IBM people felt that COMTRAN was a consistent language and was 
 superior to COBOL and continued to plan to implement COMTRAN compilers  in 
1960. But, as I recall, the pressure from DoD particularly was too strong 
and  therefore IBM made a marketing decision to drop COMTRAN and only support 
COBOL,  in spite of what IBM perceived as its deficiencies.
I was not privy to the debates within the CODASYL committee, only to what I 
 heard from Bob Bemer and Roy Goldfinger (and other members of Bemer's 
team),  about how the final decisions were made,,,but I had a strong impression 
that the  other manufacturers (Univac, RCA, Honeywell and others) were not 
willing to  have IBM be the "owner" of the commercial language as it was of 
the scientific  language.
There is no doubt in my mind that Grace Hopper believed that COBOL  was 
principally based on her work at Univac (she is quoted in many  interviews to 
that effect including at least one on the Computer  History Museum website) 
and, barring any forensic analysis that  provesd otherwise, I expect that is 
as close to the truth as we will get now  that so many of the CODASYL 
participants have died and probably have not left  detailed records of the 
committee deliberations. 
Burt Grad 
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