Dusty Decks: Preserving historic software

Daniel N. Leeson

Daniel N. Leeson’s article “IBM FORTRAN Exhibit and Film” in the FORTRAN’S Twenty-Fifth Anniversary special issue of the Annals of the History of Computing mentions that materials were located in private collections, “two of which are unusually noteworthy”:

Roy Nutt and Harlan Herrick have both made a special effort to retain material from their early days in computing. Nutt possessed a microfilm of (allegedly) every document in the FORTRAN development offices at the time the product was released. He generously donated a copy to the IBM historical archives. Herrick’s collection of memorabilia was also extensive. For example, he owned the only known copy of IBM’s first FORTRAN film, made in Poughkeepsie about 1958, that showed how FORTRAN could be used to program a solution to “The Indian Problem” (a calculation demonstrating the effect of compound interest on the $24 said to have been paid for Manhattan Island).

Using Internet search engines and hints from the article (in 1984, Leeson had worked for IBM General Products Division in San Jose, California), I found Leeson’s phone number and called him today.

He was responsible for assembling both the museum-class exhibit and the film for the 1982 25th anniversary celebration for Fortran. He told me IBM had a facility in Armonk where they archived the last copy of every machine; he thinks it might still exist.

Leeson says he thinks it’s very unlikely that any copies of the source code survive. He speculated that Roy Nutt’s personal collection may have been lost when he died.

Update: On 7 July 2004, shortly after this weblog went public, Micah Nutt read this entry and posted a comment: “As one of Roy Nutt’s four children […] I am in custody of the FORTRAN microfilm; Ruth [Micah’s mother] has many boxes which I have yet to fully organize. Roy died of lung cancer June 14th 1990.”