- By Wilson P. Dizard III
- Sep 10, 2003
The Army has changed many people's lives, often for the better. One such individual, John Backus, is a former University of Virginia chemistry student who was expelled for nonattendance. While serving as a corporal in an antiaircraft battery at Fort Stewart, Ga., in 1943, the 19-year-old Backus took an Army aptitude test, the results of which prompted the service to send him to a pre-engineering program at the University of Pittsburgh.
Backus left the service in 1946. He later studied mathematics at Columbia University. In the spring of 1949, Backus joined IBM Corp.'s Computer Center in Manhattan, where he eventually helped design the 704, one of the first successful commercial computers.
That led to the 1954 development of the Mathematical FORmula TRANslating System. Fortran, the first high-level programming language, is still used, primarily by engineers and scientists. Among his many awards, Backus received the National Medal of Science in 1976.