Freedom at the Mathematisch Centrum
[1953, MC Amsterdam, Edsger Dijkstra, B.J.
Loopstra and Dijkstra's future wife Ria Debets (Picture taken by Gerrit Blaauw).]
Without any knowledge of Zuse’s Plannkalküll (1946)
or the work of Hopper, Dijkstra started his programming career by rewriting
the programming mutations and input programs Van Wijngaarden had written.
Van Wijngaarden allowed him to do it. These programs had been developed for
MC’s first computer, the ARRA I, an in house development project by
C.S. Scholten and J. Loopstra.
[Zeeland Delta Project]
The Computing Department of the MC worked day and night to solve
the numerous problems connected with the large scale projects that were developed
in The Netherlands, like the DELTA project for the safety of the Zeeland province,
containing the truly gigantic Haringvlietsluizen-complex.
[Delta Project, Haringvliet sluices]
Another major project was the development of the Fokker Friendship
aircraft , with its wing flutter calculations, that demanded the maximum of
MC 's capacity.
In 1953, Gerrit Blaauw joined the MC team. First the ARRA II
was constructed and because of the reliability of this machine Fokker Aircraft
Corporation ordered a similar computer, called the FERTA. This FERTA was twice
as fast as the ARRA II and had a different type of coding. For both these
machines Dijkstra developed the software, as well as for its 1956 successor:
the ARMAC, the last computer developed for the MC.
After the completion of the FERTA Gerrit Blaauw went to work
for IBM, Poughkeepsie, USA, where he would work on the development of the
IBM 7030, the "Stretch" and eventually design and build the IBM
A new challenge: Electrologica
Because developments of large scale calculating machines was an ongoing
process the preparations for a further computer had already been finished
by Dijkstra, Scholten and Loopstra when the MC management and Life Insurance
Company Nillmij decided to establish an independent company for the production
of commercial computers: Electrologica, in 1956.
[Electrologica X1, 1957]
Therefore, Electrologica could immediately start with a brand
new machine: the Electrologica X1.
A brand new computer language...ALGOL
In these years between 1952 and 1956, programming saw an evolution,
partly because the ever growing complexity of the systems ordered a more structured
operating system, and partly because the scientific, mathematical approach
of programming produced an ever clearer insight in how the job could be done
efficiently. Remarkable in this process was Dijkstra’s discovery of
the Shortest Path Algorithm. Because this evolution was a worldwide happening,
with worldwide contributors, slowly the basis for a scientific computer language
was laid: ALGOL was soon to be born.
In 1958, Edsger Dijkstra represented the Dutch MC at the November
Conference in Mainz, a preparatory conference for defining the specifications
of ALGOL In December 1959 ALGOL 60 was defined. In the words of Dijkstra:
"…A miracle was performed by simple mortals…". Finally,
the APRIL 1962 Rome convention agreed upon most of the specifications, and
in August, 1962 IFIP, the International Federation on Programming Languages
reviewed the report, and approved of it.
As early as January 1960, after ALGOL 60 had been defined,
the Mathematical Center started courses in Programming in ALGOL 60,
at first in Holland, and, in 1961, also at Brighton, England. This really
was the start of a new discipline of the MC: programming education.