[SIGCIS-Members] COBOL history

Thomas Haigh thaigh at computer.org
Mon Oct 6 11:08:35 PDT 2014

The phrase I have seen repeatedly to clarify this point is that Hopper
should be remembered as the "Grandmother of COBOL" rather than the "Mother
of COBOL." That fits with what Brian is quoting -- that she pioneer high
level language technology and promoted its particular applicability to
business data processing. That would not be the same thing as leading the
COBOL effort or designing the language, though she did push for its

In GoTo, Steve Lohr quotes Sammet on page 52 as saying Hopper was "not the
mother, creator, or developer of COBOL." Lohr reports on the same page that
Dan McCraken was told by Hopper herself to call her the "grandmother of
COBOL" rather than its mother.


-----Original Message-----
From: members-bounces at sigcis.org [mailto:members-bounces at sigcis.org] On
Behalf Of Brian Randell
Sent: Monday, October 06, 2014 12:39 PM
To: Sigcis
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] COBOL history


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
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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