This Day in History: September 20
September 20, 1954
First FORTRAN Program Runs
The first successful FORTRAN program runs. FORTRAN, which is an acronym for "FORmula TRANslator," was invented at IBM by a group led by John Backus. FORTRAN's purpose was to simplify the programming process by allowing the programmer ("coder") to use simple algebra-like expressions when writing software. It also took over the task of keeping track of where instructions were kept in memory--a very laborious and error-prone procedure when undertaken by humans. FORTRAN is still in use today in scientific and engineering applications, making it one of the oldest programming languages still in use (COBOL is another). Backus was named a Computer History Museum Fellow in 1997.
September 20, 1983
RSA Algorithm Patent Is Awarded
The RSA algorithm, one of the world's most widely-used encryption methods, had been developed in 1977. Scientific American columnist Martin Gardner wrote a description of the algorithm in his "Mathematical Games" column, mentioning that readers could send a self-addressed stamped envelope to receive a copy of the MIT technical memorandum describing it. More than three thousand people sent envelopes, though they did not receive their copies of the papers until after the patent was issued six years later due to members of the National Security Agency raising questions about the legality of making the information available.