Bob Bemer

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Bob Bemer
Born Robert William Bemer
February 8, 1920
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
Died June 22, 2004(2004-06-22) (aged 84)
Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas
Nationality American
Alma mater Albion College (B.A., Mathematics, 1940)
Occupation computer scientist
Known for early work as a computer pioneer, standardization of ASCII

Robert William Bemer (February 8, 1920 – June 22, 2004) was a computer scientist best known for his work at IBM during the late 1950s and early 1960s.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Bemer graduated from Cranbrook School in 1936 and took a B.A. in Mathematics at Albion College in 1940. He earned a Certificate in Aeronautical Engineering at Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute in 1941.


Bemer began his career as an aerodynamicist at Douglas Aircraft Company in 1941, then worked for RAND Corporation from 1951, IBM from 1957, and Honeywell from 1974. He also worked for UNIVAC.

He served on the committee which amalgamated the design for his COMTRAN language with Grace Hopper's FLOW-MATIC and thus produced the specifications for COBOL. He also served, with Hugh McGregor Ross and others, on the separate committee which defined the ASCII character codeset in 1960, contributing several characters which had not previously been used by computers including the ESCape character, the backslash character, and the curly bracket characters.[2] As a result he is sometimes known as The Father of ASCII.[1]

Bemer is probably the earliest proponent of the Software Factory concept. He mentioned it in his 1968 paper “The economics of program production”.[3]

Other notable contributions to computing include the first publication of the time-sharing concept and the first attempts to prepare for the Year 2000 problem in publications as early as 1971. Acting in an advisory capacity, Bob and Honeywell employees Eric Clamons and Richard Keys developed TEX, the Text Executive Programming Language[4]

In the late 1990s, as a retiree, Bob invented an approach to Y2K (Year 2000) date conversion, to avoid anticipated problems when dates without centuries were compared in programs for which source code was not available. This involved detecting six and eight character operations at run time and checking their operands, adjusting the comparison so that low years in the new century did not appear to precede the last years of the twentieth century.

Bob Bemer maintained an extensive collection of archival material on early computer software development still online at


Bemer died at his home in Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas in 2004 at age 84 after a battle with cancer.[5][6][7][8]


  1. ^ a b "Biography of Robert William Bemer". 
  2. ^ Bob Bemer (2002-07-07). "The Great Curly Brace Trace Chase". Computer History Vignettes. Bob Bemer. Retrieved October 11, 2009. 
  3. ^ "The Software Factory Principle". Archived from the original on 2001-04-06. 
  4. ^ Introduction to TEX, p.144 Interface Age - Aug 1978
  5. ^ Sullivan, Patricia (June 25, 2004). "Computer Pioneer Bob Bemer, 84". Washington Post. p. B06. Retrieved 2016-06-15. 
  6. ^ Vance, Ashlee (June 24, 2004). "Programming pioneer Bob Bemer dies at 84 - ASCII, ESC, /, COBOL, Y2K, RIP". The Register. Archived from the original on 2016-06-16. Retrieved 2016-06-16. 
  7. ^ "Key computer coding creator dies". BBC. June 25, 2004. Archived from the original on 2016-06-16. Retrieved 2016-06-16. 
  8. ^ "Computer pioneer dies". CNN. June 24, 2004. Archived from the original on December 4, 2004.  [1]

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