Fortran is a general-purpose programming language created by an IBM team led by John Backus having its first compiler delivered in April 1957 (although the first manual appeared in October 1956). The programmers Peter Sheridan, Sheldon F. Best, Richard Goldberg, Harlan Herrick, Irving Ziller, Roy Nutt, Robert Nelson, David Sayre, Harold Stern, and Lois Haibt were part of the original team who started working along with Backus.

Backus submitted a proposal to his superiors at IBM by late 1953, the idea was to create a practical alternative to Assembly Language, the low-level programming language widely used at that time, and as he said to “Think”, the IBM employee magazine, much of his work came from “being lazy”, since writing programs on the IBM 701 to calculate missile trajectories was very laborious.

The name Fortran derives from Formula Translating System (The IBM Mathematical Formula Translating System), this was the first optimizing compiler, by then, customers were reluctant to use anything that could not perform as good as hand-coded assembly language, so Fortran was built to be a high-level programming language that could improve development time and generate low-level code that performed in an optimal manner.


The Fortran Automatic Coding System for the IBM 704 (15 October 1956), the first programmer’s reference manual for Fortran


The result was that it reduced the number of programming statements required to operate a machine by a factor of 20, the language was widely adopted by scientist for writing numerically intensive programs, which led writers to produce compilers that could generate faster and more efficient code. By 1963 more than 40 Fortran compilers existed and for this Fortran is considered the first widely used cross-platform programming language.

There are numerous versions of this programming language that are still in use in the computing industry which include Fortran 2008 and Fortran 2018. As of November 2021, Fortran is ranking 19th in TIOBE index, a measure of popularity of programming languages.

By Jose Lopez

Sources include: IBM Think Magazine, Wikipedia and others

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