[SIGCIS-Members] COBOL history

Brian Randell brian.randell at newcastle.ac.uk
Mon Oct 6 10:39:07 PDT 2014


I don’t have the time or energy to read the entirety of Jean Sammet’s “The Early History of COBOL” (In “The History of Programming Languages”, Academic Press, 1981, pages 199-277) but even a quick glance at this shows Grace Hopper’s footprints all over the COBOL project.

Some quotes I particularly noted:

“In my view, Grace Hopper did more than any other single individual to sell the concept of higher level languages from both a technical and administrative viewpoint" [Applause] - from Jean Sammet’s introduction to Grace Hopper, the conference keynote speaker (page 6)

“It is beyond the scope of this paper to do even a superficial study of all the work that precedes COBOL. However, it is worth noting the preliminary definition of a data processing compiler by Grace Hopper (1955) which contains the following two crucial sentences as part of the description of the compilation process. ‘in the case of a *verb*, the catalog entry will lead to a generator or subroutine and its satellite routines in a volume of the library. In the case of a *noun*, the catalog entry will lead to a standard item design and its satellite routines in a volume of the library.’ In my opinion, these sentences are crucial, since they point the way to a data description that is separate from the executable code.” (page 217)

“A key point in the development of any language is to see what influenced it . . . The major influences [on COBOL] were the two languages - FLOW-MATIC from Remington Rand Univac done under Grace Hopper’s direction - Commercial Translator being done at IBM by a group under the general leadership of Ray Goldfinger, who was working for Bob Bemer at the time.” (pages 247-248)

I have no doubt that Grace Hopper was one of the major contributors to the whole COBOL project.


Brian Randell

School of Computing Science, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU
EMAIL = Brian.Randell at ncl.ac.uk   PHONE = +44 191 208 7923
URL = http://www.ncl.ac.uk/computing/staff/profile/brian.randell

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