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Programming languages, believe it or not, have existed for over 200 years, since the invention of the punch-card-programmable Jacquard loom. It wasn’t a programming language in the modern sense — there was no computation and no logic — but it started a cascade that would eventually lead to Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, and Ada Lovelace’s 1842 deconstruction of his work which led to the first computer program.
It was a whole 100 years before the first electrical, programmable computers would burst into existence, however. Machine-specific assembly language in the 1940s was probably the first (vaguely) human-readable programming language, but by the 1950s computer engineers realized that assembly language was far too laborious and error-prone to build entire systems out of — and thus in 1955 the first modern programming language was born: FORTRAN (FORmula TRANslator). LISP (LISt Processor), ALGOL (ALGOrithmic Language), and COBOL (COmmon Business Oriented Language) would follow in the next few years — and as they say, the rest is history. Almost every language today is a derived from one of these first four languages — and indeed, FORTRAN, LISP, and COBOL are still actively used by large, lumbering institutions like the National Weather Service and the US Postal Service.
By 1964, BASIC had been invented, and then C was released in 1969. Unix was famously re-written into C — the first major OS to not be written in assembly language — and today, Linux is written almost entirely in C, and both Windows and Mac OS X have large swaths of their code written in C.
For the rest of the history of modern programming languages — because C was really just the beginning! — check out the infographic below. You can click it to zoom in.
Read more about the history of programming languages
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