Thomas Eugene Kurtz (born 1928)
Education Princeton University, Knox College (Mathematics)
Known for BASIC, TRUE BASIC
1974 AFIPS Pioneer Award
1991 IEEE Computer Science Pioneer Award
Thomas Eugene Kurtz (born February 22, 1928) is a retired Dartmouth professor of mathematics and computer scientist, who along with his colleague John G. Kemeny set in motion the then revolutionary concept of making computers as freely available to college students as library books were, by implementing the concept of time-sharingat Dartmouth College. In his mission to allow non-expert users to interact with the computer, he co-developed the BASIC programming language (Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) and the Dartmouth Time Sharing System during 1963 to 1964.
A native of Oak Park, Illinois, United States, Kurtz graduated from Knox College in 1950, and was awarded a Ph.D. degree from Princeton University in 1956, where his advisor was John Tukey, and joined the Mathematics Department of Dartmouth College that same year, where he taught statistics and numerical analysis.
In 1983, Kurtz and Kemeny co-founded a company called True BASIC, Inc. to market True BASIC, an updated version of the language.
Kurtz has also served as Council Chairman and Trustee of EDUCOM, as well as Trustee and Chairman of NERComP, and on the Pierce Panel of the President's Scientific Advisory Committee. Kurtz also served on the steering committees for the CONDUIT project and the CCUC conferences on instructional computing.
In 1974, the American Federation of Information Processing Societies gave an award to Kurtz and Kemeny at the National Computer Conference for their work on BASIC and time-sharing. In 1991, the Computer Society honored Kurtz with the IEEE Computer Pioneer Award and in 1994 he was inducted as a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery.
Early life and education
In 1951, Kurtz' first experience with computing came at the Summer Session of the Institute for Numerical Analysis at University of California, Los Angeles. His interests have included numerical analysis, statistics, and computer science ever since. He graduated in 1950 when he obtained his bachelor's degree majoring in mathematics and in 1956, at the age of 28, he went on to acquire his PhD from Princeton University. His thesis was on a problem of multiple comparisons in mathematical statistics. Kurtz composed his first computer program in 1951 while working with computers at UCLA in the institute of numerical analysis. He performed this feat just after finishing grad school and one year into his tuition at Princeton University.
In 1963 to 1964, Kurtz and Kemeny developed the first version of the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System, a time-sharing system for university use, and the BASIC language.
From 1966 to 1975, Kurtz served as Director of the Kiewit Computation Center at Dartmouth, and from 1975 to 1978, Director of the Office of Academic Computing. From 1980 to 1988 Kurtz was Director of the Computer and Information Systems program at Dartmouth, a ground-breaking multidisciplinary graduate program to develop IS leaders for industry. Subsequently, Kurtz returned to teaching full-time as a Professor of Mathematics, with an emphasis on statistics and computer science.
As part of the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System, Kemeny and Kurtz created the BASIC programming language. The very first BASIC program ran on May 1, 1964 at 4 a.m., and neither Kemeny nor Kurtz thought of this as a start to something grand. They merely hoped it would help students learn something about the computers they were using. The pair made certain that their invention was immediately dispersed to the public and made no real money from it. Dartmouth College copyrighted BASIC; however it made BASIC available and free to anyone wanting to use it. The name for the language originated from Kurtz’s wish to have a simple acronym that meant something as well. Kurtz states that, “We wanted a word that was simple but not simple-minded, and BASIC was that one.” BASIC along with the books published on it earned a lot of positive feedback, for example: “This second edition of Basic Programming gives a thorough description of BASIC, which is useful not only for the beginner, but also for the more experienced programmer.”; “ My overall evaluation of BASIC programming is that it is ideal for the individual who wishes to program with a minimum of effort and of equal value for group or classroom instruction.” 
The theme that BASIC was for the average computer user is stressed by Kurtz. In an open letter he reiterates upon past statements that BASIC was invented to give students a simple programming language that was easy to learn, as all the current languages of the time were dedicated to professionals. He then went on to say that BASIC was for people who did not want to dedicate their lives to programming. The repetition of this idea by Kurtz accentuates that even through all of his success the language he wrote would remain implemented for the masses and not just specialists.
BASIC standards were created in the 1980s for the ECMA, and ANSI with their versions being released in 1986 and 1987 respectively. BASIC popularity skyrocketed in 1975 after a pair of youngsters in a Harvard dormitory, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, created a version of BASIC that was viable on one of the earliest personal computers. Gates and Allen’s version became the most prominent iterations of BASIC.
The road to BASIC itself was a long one. Kemeny and Kurtz had forged DARSIMCO – Dartmouth Simplified Code – Dartmouth’s inaugural attempt at making a computing language in 1956; however DARSIMCO soon became obsolete when the language FORTRAN manifested itself. In 1962 Kemeny and a Dartmouth undergraduate, Sidney Marshall, created the language DOPE, Dartmouth Oversimplified Programming Experiment, which was a direct predecessor of BASIC. DOPE itself was little used, and Kurtz preferred trying to implement successful languages such as FORTRAN and ALGOL. Kurtz's experience with Dartmouth ALGOL 30 for the LGP-30 convinced him that devising subsets of these languages was not quite practical, and this led him to adopt Kemeny’s notion of creating a new language entirely.
Although BASIC was widely regarded as a success, many computing professionals thought it was a poor choice for larger and more complicated programs. Larger programs became confusing and messy when they used the “GO TO” statement to jump from one line of a program to another. A further criticism of the original language was that it was unstructured, which made it difficult to split programs into separate parts to improve readability. BASIC not being structured also hindered the ability to debug and modify parts of the code, and this limited its use by larger companies. Hence it largely remained a language used for only smaller programs.
In 1983, in response to a proliferation of "Street BASICs," a group of graduating Dartmouth students persuaded Kemeny and Kurtz to offer the Dartmouth version of the language as a commercial product. The first offering of their company, True Basic, Inc., was based on Dartmouth BASIC 7, which featured modern programming constructs such as “IF..THEN..ELSE, DO..LOOP and EXIT DO”. The company described its product as “Simple. Elegant. Powerful. True BASIC.“ Upon Kemeny's advice, True BASIC was not limited to a single OS or computer system. “Today versions of True BASIC are available for DOS, Mac OS, Windows, Unix, and Linux systems”. When Kurtz retired from Dartmouth College in 1993, he continued to develop and maintain True Basic.
- New Hampshire Historical Marker No. 261: BASIC: The First User-Friendly Computer Programming Language
Born February 22, 1928, Oak Park, Ill.; with John Kemeny, developer of the programming language and system BASIC.
Education: BA, Knox College, 1950; PhD, mathematics/statistics, Princeton University, 1956.
Professional Experience: Dartmouth College: instructor, mathematics, 1956-1958, assistant professor, 1958-1963, associate professor, 1963-1966; professor, 1966-1993, director, Computing Center, 1959-1975, director, Kiewit Computation Center, 1966-1975, director, Office of Academic Computing, 1975-1978, vice chair and chair, Program in Computing and Information Science, 1979-1988; member, Pierce Panel, President's Science Advisory Council in Higher Education, 1965-1967; chairman, Council, EDUCOM, 1973-1974.
Honors and Awards: AFIPS Pioneer Award, 1974; DSc (Hon.), Knox College, 1987; IEEE Computer Science Pioneer Award, 1991.
Kurtz received his PhD in statistics from Princeton in 1956, his first contact with computing having occurred in 1951 at the summer session of the Institute for Numerical Analysis (INA) at UCLA in the summer of 1951. He joined the Dartmouth College Mathematics Department (chaired by John G. Kemeny) in 1956 as an instructor. Besides teaching statistics and numerical analysis, he served as the Dartmouth contact to the New England Regional Computer Center (NERComP), which was supported in part by IBM at MIT. In 1959 Dartmouth obtained an LGP-30 computer, and Kurtz became the first director of Dartmouth's computing center.
Around 1962, Kurtz and John G. Kemeny began jointly to supervise the design and development of a time-sharing system for university use. The idea to use time-sharing to reach all Dartmouth students came from John McCarthy who, around 1961, advised, "you guys ought to do time-sharing." This effort culminated in 1964 in the first Dartmouth Time-Sharing System (DTSS). Although other languages such as Fortran and Algol were provided, the principal language was BASIC, which was deliberately designed to be easy to learn and easy to use.
Subsequently, Kurtz served as the director of the Kiewit Computation Center from 1966 to 1975, and as director of the Office of Academic Computing from 1975 to 1978. In 1979 he and Stephen J. Garland organized a professional master's program in Computer and Information Systems, funded in part with a grant from IBM. Upon termination of the CIS program in 1988, Kurtz returned to teaching. He retired from Dartmouth College in 1993.
Outside of Dartmouth, Kurtz served as council chairman and trustee of EDUCOM, as trustee and chairman of NERcomP, and on the so-called Pierce Panel of the President's Advisory Committee. He also served on the steering committee for two NSF- and ARPA-supported activities, and was the chair of the first CCUC conference on instructional computing. He helped form the American National Standards committee X3J2, which developed the ANSI standard for BASIC, serving as chair from 1974 to 1985, and as secretary from 1990 to the present. He is a member of the ISO committee SC22/WG8, concerned with the international standard for BASIC, and served as its convener from 1987 to 1993.
In 1983, he joined John Kemeny and three former Dartmouth students in forming True BASIC, Inc., whose purpose was to develop quality educational software and a platform-independent BASIC compiler based on the ANSI standard. He continues to be associated with this company, and serves as its secretary/ treasurer.
"If Fortran is the lingua franca, then certainly it must be true that BASIC is the lingua playpen."
Kemeny, John G., and Thomas E. Kurtz, Back to BASIC. The History, Corruption and Future of the Language, Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass., 1985. (Note: True BASIC Inc. is now the copyright holder and sole distributor of this book.)
Kurtz, Thomas E., "BASIC," in Wexelblat, Richard L., ed., History of Programming Languages, Academic Press, New York, 198 1, Chapter 11.
Slater, Robert, Portraits in Silicon, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1987, Chapter 22.
Kurtz, Thomas E., Basic Statistics, [Kurtz notes this to be his first use of the word BASIC.] Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ., 1963.
Kemeny, J.G., and T.E. Kurtz, "Dartmouth Time Sharing," Science, Vol. 162, 1968, pp. 223-228.
Kemeny, J.G., and T.E. Kurtz, BASIC Programming, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1967, 1971, 1980.
Kemeny, J.G., and T.E. Kurtz, Structured BASIC Programming, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1987.
In 1994 Kurtz was made a Fellow of the ACM (MRW, 2012). Portrait replaced (MRW, 2013)
"BASIC Programming Language - Thomas E. Kurtz - Dartmouth College"