Most popular programming languages before 1980

Programming languages have come a long way since the early days of computing. Before 1980, there were a number of programming languages that were popular among developers and played a key role in shaping the industry. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular programming languages before 1980.


Fortran, which stands for “FORmula TRANslation,” was developed by IBM in the 1950s and is considered the first high-level programming language. Fortran was primarily designed for scientific and engineering calculations and is still used in some scientific applications today. Fortran’s popularity peaked in the 1970s, but it is still widely used in scientific and engineering communities.


COBOL, which stands for “Common Business Oriented Language,” was developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s by a committee of business and government representatives. COBOL was designed for business applications and is still widely used in the finance and banking industries. Despite its age, COBOL remains a critical language for many legacy systems.

As a student in the 90s, I studied COBOL, well, all the languages in the list I studied to a point, but the main focus was on COBOL. I recall being told that COBOL would never die, learn COBOL and you’ll always have a job. I thought that was madness, but, I now admit, they were right.


Lisp, short for “List Processing,” was developed in the late 1950s and is one of the oldest programming languages still in use today. Lisp is a functional programming language and was originally developed for artificial intelligence and symbolic computing. Lisp is still used today in areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing.


BASIC, short for “Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code,” was developed in the 1960s at Dartmouth College as an educational language. BASIC was designed to be simple and easy to learn, and it quickly became popular for personal computing. Many early personal computers, including the Commodore 64 and the Apple II, included BASIC as the default programming language.

However, it was the ease of BASIC on the ZX Spectrum that created a boom in what was called ‘Bedroom Coders’. Around the world, but in the UK in particular, bedroom coders started to produce a vast array of games and other software for the humble machine.


Algol, short for “Algorithmic Language,” was developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s by an international committee of computer scientists. Algol was designed to be a universal language for scientific computing and was influential in the development of other languages such as Pascal and C. Algol is no longer widely used, but it played a key role in the early days of programming language development.


PL/I, short for “Programming Language One”, yes they really had to think about that name, was developed in the early 1960s by IBM as a general-purpose language for scientific and business computing. PL/I was designed to combine the strengths of Fortran and COBOL, and it was widely used in IBM mainframe environments. PL/I is no longer widely used, but it played an important role in the early days of computer programming.


In conclusion, the early days of programming language development were marked by a number of key languages that helped shape the industry. Fortran, COBOL, Lisp, BASIC, Algol, and PL/I were all popular languages before 1980 and played important roles in the development of modern computing. While many of these languages are no longer widely used today, they paved the way for the development of newer languages and continue to influence programming language design and development today.

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