Go To: The Story of the Math Majors, Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Maverick Scientists, and Iconoclasts, the Programmers Who Created the Software Revolution

By Steve Lohr | Go to book overview

2
FORTRAN: The Early
"Turning Point"

BY AUGUST 1952, IBM's SLEEK NEW COMPUTER, the Defense Calculator, was ready for a road test. A half-dozen customers had placed orders - the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory, Douglas Aircraft, Lockheed Aircraft, and a few others - and they were summoned to IBM's Poughkeepsie plant to get an early glimpse of what the machine could do. Computing was in its infancy, just a step or so beyond a laboratory experiment. Interest in the electronic behemoths came mainly from the Pentagon and its private-sector relation, the emerging aerospace industry. Their interest was primarily in using the giant machines to automate the tedious process of producing scientific calculations by hand - row upon row of office workers cranking away on desktop calculators. Only gradually would it be recognized that computers were capable of being far more than big adding machines - that, when properly programmed, computers could be used as tools for exploring new frontiers of knowledge.

The impetus for the Defense Calculator came from the Korean War. The Korean conflict, begun in 1950, lent urgency to the push for new planes and weapons that would operate at higher speeds, higher temperatures, and with greater precision. Designing and producing them meant another surge in demand for engineering calculations, only five years after the end of World War II. The Pentagon and its corporate suppliers were sophisticated customers with deep pockets, but they were few. And it was not yet clear that there would be

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Go To: The Story of the Math Majors, Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Maverick Scientists, and Iconoclasts, the Programmers Who Created the Software Revolution
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