[TUHS] TUHS] where did "main" come from?

Nelson H. F. Beebe beebe at math.utah.edu
Sat May 23 07:12:41 AEST 2020

Lawrence Stewart <stewart at serissa.com> asks on Fri, 22 May 2020 14:43:40 -0400:

>> So who started "main" and when? 

I have just checked several PDFs of IBM mainframe and Fortran manuals
going back to 1954.  

The early manuals did not appear to use the name "main", but in
ibm-7030/C22-6578_7030_Programming_Examples_Apr61.pdf, the phrase "the
main program" occurs in the context of assembly language coding.

In ibm-7030/C22-6751_7030_FORTRAN_IV_May63.pdf, on page 22,
which begins with

	Part II. FORTRAN Programming for the IBM 7030

the first paragraph ends with "the main program".

In silliac/SPMpart1-ocr.pdf, titled

	Silliac Programming Manual
	The Adolph Basser Computing Laboratory
	School of Physics
	The University of Sydney

and dated January 1959, on page 99, I find

>> ...
>> In this way a program is seen to consist of several distinct,
>> self-contained blocks, namely the various subroutines and the part of
>> the program (usually called the main program or master routine) which
>>                             ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
>> makes use of its subroutines by sending control to them.
>> ...

I have many manuals for older systems, but most have not been
subjected to optical-character recognition, so it is difficult to find
specific text in them.  Nevertheless, I have demonstrated that by at
least January 1959, the phrase "main program" was common enough to
appear in computer documentation, qualified by "usually".

Some day, perhaps I'll find time to do OCR conversion on my extensive
PDF file archives.

I'll be pleased to hear of earlier uses of "main program" from TUHS
list members.

- Nelson H. F. Beebe                    Tel: +1 801 581 5254                  -
- University of Utah                    FAX: +1 801 581 4148                  -
- Department of Mathematics, 110 LCB    Internet e-mail: beebe at math.utah.edu  -
- 155 S 1400 E RM 233                       beebe at acm.org  beebe at computer.org -
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