Robert W. Bemer

2002 Computer Pioneer Award Recipient


“For meeting the world’s needs for variant character sets and other symbols, via ASCII, ASCII-alternate sets, and escape sequences”


Rob Bemer, becoming a programmer in early 1949, has worked at RAND Corporation, Marquardt, Lockheed, IBM, Univac, Bull GE, General Electric, and Honeywell.

• At Lockheed, he devised the first computerized 3-D dynamic perspective, prelude to today’s computer animation.

• At IBM, he developed:

• PRINT I (the first load-and-go computer method),

• FORTRANSIT (the first major proof of intercomputer portability, and the second FORTRAN compiler),

• Commercial Translator (a COBOL input), and

• XTRAN (an ALGOL predecessor).

• In 1957 March he was the first to describe commercial timesharing publicly, which you now see as the Worldwide Web.

• In 1959 his internal IBM memo proposed word processing.

• The Identification and Environment Divisions of COBOL are due to him, as is the Picture Clause, which could have avoided the Year 2000 problem if used correctly.

• He coined the terms “COBOL”, “CODASYL”, and “Software Factory”.

• He was the major force in developing ASCII, contributing 10 characters — ESCape (see that key), FS, GS, RS, US, {, }, [, ], and the backslash).

• He invented the escape sequence and registry concept, and is called the “Father of ASCII”.

• He wrote the original scope and program of work for international and national computer standards, and chaired the international committee for programming language standards for eleven years.

• He was Program Chairman for ACM 70, promoter of National Computer

Year (when the Y2K problem should have been solved), and edited the

proceedings as the book “Computers and Crisis”.

• Three Pioneer Days have honored him — SHARE, COBOL, and FORTRAN.

• As editor of the Honeywell Computer Journal (the first A4-size publication [1971] in the U.S.) he innovated fiche-of-the-issue and multimedia publishing.

• He has published more than 115 articles in technical journals.

• In 1995 he received the Albion College Distinguished Alumnus Award.

• In 2000 he was named in the Delta Tau Delta “Rainbow” as one of the “100 Most Influential Delts of the 20th Century”.

• He is recognized as the first person in the world to publish warnings of the Year 2000 problem — first in 1971, and again in 1979. For this he has appeared on CNET, NBC Nightly News, CNN, Good Morning America, the BBC, Good Morning Australia, and local TV stations; and has been profiled in the Wall Street Journal, New Yorker, New York Times, Time Magazine, Vanity Fair, the Baltimore Sun, Scripps and Gannett.