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Brief Summary of the Early History of COBOL

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The two definitive presentations of the history of programming languages are: Programming Languages: History and Fundamentals, by Jean E. Sammet, and History of Programming Languages, edited by R. L. Wexelblat. The former was not intended to be just a history, but was an exposition of the state of the programming language field circa 1966-1967; the detailed descriptions of the origins of the languages in the book were at that time the most complete history published. In 1978 Sammet chaired the ACM/SIGPLAN Conference on the History of Programming Languages (HOPL) from which the text of the same title was created. In that volume are both a formal paper on the history of COBOL and the transcript of Sammet's presentation. This following article is an unedited extract from the formal paper, reprinted with the permission of ACM and Academic Press. We chose not to reprint the complete paper here because it is readily accessible, but we are printing a significant portion of it to provide Annals readers with an overview of the early COBOL development. The full version of the paper was reviewed in draft form by most of the key participants of that time period; they generally did not object to the information provided. Thus, that paper and the extract printed here present an accurate description of which people participated, or played major roles, or did not participate in the language definition.

Published in:

Annals of the History of Computing  (Volume:7 ,  Issue: 4 )