When I was in third grade, long ago and in a galaxy far away, I wrote my first computer programs on a TRS-80 at a small desk that my 5 year old son still uses for his homework today. I checked out books on programming from my local library in Charlotte, NC, in the one language I had been exposed to and the default language of the TRS-80, Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, commonly known as BASIC. Today marks the 50th anniversary of the execution of the first BASIC program and it is truly a moment to celebrate.
In 1964, at Dartmouth College, the BASIC language was created by John Kemeny, chair of the Department of Mathematics, and Thomas Kurtz, Professor of Math and Computer Science. Kemeny and Kurtz both came into computer science from a statistics background. The language, derived from a combination of FORTRAN II and ALGOL 60, was initially focused on mathematical computing. BASIC didn’t even support character strings at first!
BASIC is still fairly widely used today in environments such as Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and other derivative languages. I continued to program in BASIC on the TRS-80, Commodore 64, Apple IIe, and x86 class machines with the later years spent with many hours of coding in Microsoft’s QuickBASIC language. It wasn’t till I was in college at NC State that I started branching out and learned C/C++. I’ve moved on and have become proficient in many languages but will always have a place in my heart for BASIC.
Happy Birthday, BASIC!