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50 years ago at 4 a.m., a Dartmouth student and professor ran the very first BASIC program.

In the 1950s, if you were at Dartmouth and you wanted to run a computer program, you had to translate that code into a bunch of little holes on a punch card, drive the 125 miles to MIT where a room-sized computer was humming away, and then wait two hours.

But Tom Kurtz (seen in the second image holding a reel of magnetic tape) decided to change that. He developed a system where students and faculty could send their code to MIT via a teletype machine. To make computer programming even more accessible to students, Kurtz and his colleague John Kemeny created a simple programming language called BASIC (Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). It made programming much more intuitive.

"People who absolutely never would have engaged with a computer before were engaging with computers," says Dartmouth professor Dan Rockmore.It spread so quickly that the telephone company had to put in new trunk lines … so that everyone who wanted to get on the computer could get on the computer.”

Here more about BASIC from Joe Palca.

Image 3: Some of the first computer nerds look over a program printout in 1969.

Image 4: John Kemeny and his daughter Jennifer look genuinely awed by this revolutionary technology. The lady in the portrait remains unimpressed. 

Image 5: Kemeny’s vanity plates. If this car still exists, I will buy it. Let me know. 

All photos by Adrian N. Bouchard, courtesy of Rauner Special Collections Library and Dartmouth College

The language where many of us started our connection with computers and programming. Does the following sound familiar?

20 GOTO 10

A bit late, but…


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