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Guide to the Robert (Bob) Bemer papers X3054.2005
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Collection Overview
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The Robert (Bob) Bemer papers, ranging in date from 1943 to 2001, with the bulk between 1955 and 1959, trace Bemer’s career in programming at IBM, Rand Corporation, General Electric, and Honeywell, Inc., as well as his personal interest in documenting, sharing and preserving information about the history of computing. Bemer was responsible for developing six ASCII characters, played a key role in the development of COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language), and identified what became known as the Y2K problem. Materials include correspondence, memoranda, published papers and articles, speeches, newspaper clippings, and technical documentation. Roughly one-fourth of the collection relates to Bemer’s discovery of the Y2K problem and his subsequent work to solve it. The remaining three-fourths of the collection relates to Bemer’s work on programming languages and standards, and among these documents are what Bemer called “vignettes” about the history of computing and software, as remembered by Bemer and his contemporaries.
Robert “Bob” William Bemer was born February 8, 1920 in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Known among his colleagues and contemporaries as “the father of ASCII,” he was a member of the American Standards Association committee that defined the “ASCII” character-encoding standard for electronic telecommunications and computing. Bemer was responsible for six characters in ASCII, most notably the escape and backslash characters. He later played a key role in the development of the COBOL programming language, which drew on aspects of Bemer’s COMTRAN programming language developed at IBM. Bemer is credited with the first public identification of the Y2K problem, publishing in 1971 his concern that the standard representation of the year in calendar dates within computer programs by the last two digits rather than the full four digits would cause serious errors in confusing the year 2000 with the year 1900.
5.42 Linear feet 4 record cartons, 1 manuscript box
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The collection is open for research.