The programming language BASIC celebrates its 50th birthday today. Long before spreadsheets or iPhone calculators were a boring staple of everyday existence, PC users (and the “personal” part of that is used loosely) had to write programs to carry out mundane tasks, like counting stuff. It was hardly mundane at the time, though. Invented in 1964 by Dartmouth College’s John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz, the language, short for “Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code,” was initially developed to run the school’s General Electric computer system. Its creators had no idea it would eventually go on to be taught in high school curriculums across the country. Here’s how Time‘s Harry McCracken lovingly describes it:
In the 1970s and early 1980s, when home computers came along, BASIC did as much as anything else to make them useful. Especially the multiple versions of the language produced by a small company named Microsoft. That’s when I was introduced to the language; when I was in high school, I was more proficient in it than I was in written English, because it mattered more to me. (I happen to have been born less than a month before BASIC was, which may or may not have anything to do with my affinity for it.)
McCracken’s feature detailing BASIC’s conception is a great read, if you have the time. Nowadays, though, BASIC is all but useless, an artifact of a different time. On a side note, I grew up in the ’90s, and the language–specifically QuickBASIC–showed me there was much more to technology than Wizardry VI and America Online chatrooms. (Shout-out to 1998, Ms. Walker, and “Intro to Computer Programming.”)
So happy birthday, BASIC! Thanks for the memories. And all the other stuff computers today do.