Early High-Level Programming Languages

In the 1950s and 1960s, there was innovation in the field of computer programming and design. Computers were becoming commercially available and starting to gain widespread interest. In 1951 to Univac 1 was the first commercially available computer for example.


In 1957 came about FORTRAN. FORTRAN was considered one of the first high-level programs to really gain popularity. Its design was suited for high performance when programmed and could perform code optimization to improve the performance of programmers’ instructions. It was ‘Formula Translating’ and its success saw it spread to other computers early on.

Fortran was built for number crunching and computing. Its implementations were widespread and its general-purpose capabilities saw use in many scientific fields of research. Fortran was produced over a series of years under different versions with compatibility for previous versions in many cases. It was by modern-day standards considered low level but no doubt was formulative for other modern-day languages, it included features like code comments, input-output handling and one of the first do loops. FORTRAN has many versions and is still used today.


ALGOL was developed around the same time as Fortran, it was designed for more ‘Algorithmic’ purpose. ALGOL 58 was considered a prototype version named IAL (International Algebraic Language) and was soon superseded by ALGOL 60. It was designed to be more human-readable and could be used to design algorithms and unlike Fortran, it was not designed to be hardware-specific to be the fastest but relied on the best implementations they thought were suitable. Although not as popular as Fortran, many modern languages have features present in ALGOL first, such as IF ELSE statements and dynamic arrays defined at run time.

Aidan Crane

I am a software engineer with a passion for business and information systems, FMCG, management and electronics.