SIMULA, an ALGOL Offspring --
First Object-Oriented Programming Language

Computer History Vignettes

By Bob Bemer


The death of Kristen Nygaard, the originator and one of two founders of Object-Oriented Programming, caught my attention while researching his latest honors (both jointly with Ole-Johan Dahl). He was born in Oslo in 1926, and left us a wonderful legacy when he died on 2002 Aug 05.

These two men received the John von Neumann Prize of the IEEE in November of 2001, and the 2001 A.M. Turing Award of the ACM in February of 2002, as well as other awards less known outside their native country of Norway.

Very well-earned, I say, and I am proud to have played a minor role in their successful work. It's a story well worth reading, and I have given you a pointer to an extensive history by Jan Rune Holmevik.

I often smile when I see or hear the names C++ and MUD, for I had my part in their ancestry.

It was just after I started with UNIVAC in 1962 as Director of Systems Programming that I met a Kristen Nygaard of the Norwegian Computer Center, Oslo. He told me about his project SIMULA. My yearly budget for Systems Programming was about $8 million at that time, to support about 325 people. Dr. Rader had advised me that 5% of that money was at my discretion, to do whatever I thought would benefit UNIVAC most! It happened that I was organizing and chairing a session at the IFIP Conference in Munich that August of 1962, to which Nygaard's project was a close fit. I invited him to give a paper in that session. It caught my interest, and I wanted SIMULA for the 1107 software repertoire (ALGOL was also in the repertoire, which I could never have made happen at IBM, but at UNIVAC I was running the show!).

Note: You'll find this last paragraph in Jan Rune Holmevik's history "Compiling Simula". See it. And for a Stanford U. paper, with references, See. In Reference [1], the authoritative account of Nygaard, is found:

"Nickitas immediately arranged a meeting at a hotel in New York between himself, KN, and three important people within UNIVAC's software activities: Alvin M. Paster (Manager, Systems Research), his boss Robert W. Bemer (Director, Systems Programming) and Bemer's boss William R. Lonergan. In the setting of the Executive Tour, a certain measure of polite interest was of course to be expected. But Paster, Bemer, and Lonergan turned out to be really interested, both in SIMULA and the LP package. Bemer at once invited KN to present SIMULA at the session which he was to chair at the IFIP 62 Congress in Munich."
UNIVAC then proposed an 1107 for his center, at advantageous discount, so a deal was worked out. This was a complicated process, and over a long period, so I lost track of the exact financial arrangements. See [1] for the specifics if you wish. But I of course kept very close to the technical progress. Ole-Johan Dahl was the other leading light on the project.

The critical supporting software was the "Package B" which I had signed off with Computer Sciences Corporation, and the ALGOL 60 compiler we had contracted for with Joe Speroni of Case.

During the course of the project, Bill Lonergan and I and both of our wives were invited to Nygaard's house for dinner. It took a boat trip to get there, in the archipelago south of Oslo. Dinner was announced to consist of seven different courses of herring. Anything other than shellfish was not my preference, so we fortified for the occasion with much good Scotch (very expensive in Europe). It turned out that I loved the herring! In the United States we just did not get the really good stuff. Many European countries do reserve their best products from general distribution outside their own borders.

It was obvious, after some wine, that Nygaard's wife took a very dim view of his devotion to the SIMULA project. It took him from home for too many days and hours, and occupied most of his mind when he was home. She notified us that it was a Norwegian custom for the hostess to speak her mind, and one of the guests must reply.

And she did give us a splendid harangue. Nobody was spared from being cussed out. I was chosen for the reply, having caused the furor in the first place by making the deal with him for UNIVAC. I proceeded very carefully, and must have managed to defuse most of the tension, for she taught me to toast each other in the Norwegian way, which is to interlink arms before bringing the glass to your lips, and to stare directly into each other's eyes while sipping.

I have seen Kristen and his wife a few times since. The next was in Oslo, where the UNIVAC branch manager and I took them to dinner at the Najaden Restaurant in the same park complex where Amundsen's Fram and Heyerdahl's balsa raft KonTiki are ensconced. There I first tasted cloudberries. Food of the gods, certainly. Time has passed, and his wife has apparently become reconciled to those times. Particularly since she has realized that her husband is the father of that modern-day rage, Object-Oriented Programming!

I met them again at the first History of Programming Languages Conference in Los Angeles in 1978 [1]. They were still friends.

At a GE Computer Department reunion in May of 1994, I told Dr. Rader about this to indicate that he too was an OOP ancestor. If he had not permitted me to tap the 5% discretionary money, I could not have abetted Nygaard, and SIMULA might never have been realized!

Paper References:

  1. Nygaard,K "SIMULA: An Extension of ALGOL to the Description of Discrete-Event Networks", Proc, IFIP 62, Munich, 1962 Aug.

  2. Nygaard,K, and O.-J.Dahl (1978), "The development of the Simula Languages", History of Programming Languages Conference, Vol. 13, No. 8, ACM SIGPLAN Notices, 1978, pp 245-272.
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