FORTRAN stands for “formula translation,” and it was the first high-level programming language that John Backus developed for IBM in 1954. Released as a commercial product in 1957, Fortran remains an important programming language for scientific and mathematical programs.

FORTRAN was a digital code interpreter, designed to approximate human language. It was not the first compiler, but it was the first to be a commercial success. Unlike early programming languages, which functioned either in machine code or assembly language, FORTRAN was a high-level code and did not require the same level of training, time, and patience, as it was much less prone to bugs. FORTRAN used words and syntax and employed a compiler to translate those sentences into assembly language or machine code that the computer could understand.

FORTRAN was among a small number of high-level programming languages available in the 1950s and 1960s that could guarantee reasonable compatibility between different computer systems. Not until the popularization of the C language in the 1970s would its portability be matched. Although the FORTRAN I continued to compile data for twenty years, it was soon succeeded by a series of upgrades (FORTRAN II, III, IV, 66, 77, 90, and 95).