Early Programming Books

Paul Koning paulkoning at comcast.net
Sun Jun 20 15:49:31 CDT 2021

> On Jun 20, 2021, at 4:43 AM, Paul Birkel via cctalk <cctalk at classiccmp.org> wrote:
> I know of two early computer (in the stored program sense) programming
> books.
>    1951: Preparation of Programs for an Electronic Digital Computer
> (Wilkes, Wheeler, & Gill)
>    1957: Digital Computer Programming (McCracken)
> What others were published prior to the McCracken text?
> Excluded are lecture compendia and symposia proceedings, such as:
>    1946: Moore School Lectures
>    1947: Proceedings of a Symposium on Large-Scale Digital Calculating
> Machinery
>    1951: Proceedings of a Second Symposium on Large-Scale Digital
> Calculating Machinery
>    1953: Faster Than Thought, A Symposium On Digital Computing Machines
> These were principally about designs for, and experience with, new hardware.

There are several Dutch ones that are interesting, available from the on-line document collection of the CWI (then MC -- Mathematical Center).   The oldest I know is from February 1948, "Principles of electronic calculating machines" (report CR3), by A. van Wijngaarden.  Much of it is about computer hardware and architecture, but the back part covers programming.  

Next is "Programming the A.R.R.A.", (MR7) also by A. van Wijngaarden, 1951.  And an interesting one, "Functional description of the ARRA" (MR12), by E. W. Dijkstra, 1953.  That's a very early example of a document giving a programmer's view of a computer, rather than a EE's view -- so it describes the instruction set, I/O mechanisms, library functions available, etc. -- but not the details of the implementation.

Along the same lines are "Handbook for the programmer -- FERTA" (in two parts, MR17 and MR20), 1955, also by Dijkstra.  

There are a bunch more along the same lines, probably nearly unknown partly because they describe one-off lab machines (except for FERTA, which is a copy of ARRA that was built by the lab for Fokker aircraft corporation and there was used for aerodynamic CAD work).  The fact that they are all in Dutch obviously doesn't help...


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