History of Spreadsheet

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A Brief History of Spreadsheets

by D. J. Power
Editor, DSSResources.COM

Spreadsheets have been used by accountants for hundreds of years. Computerized or electronic spreadsheets are of much more recent origin. Information Systems oral history and some published newspaper and magazine stories celebrate Dan Bricklin as the "father" of the electronic spreadsheet. In 1978, Harvard Business School student, Daniel Bricklin, came up with the idea for an interactive visible calculator (see email from Frankston, 4/15/1999a). Bricklin and Bob Frankston then co-invented or co-created the software program VisiCalc. We can look back and recognize that VisiCalc was the first "killer" application for personal computers.

What is a spreadsheet?

In the realm of accounting jargon a "spread sheet" or spreadsheet was and is a large sheet of paper with columns and rows that organizes data about transactions for a business person to examine. It spreads or shows all of the costs, income, taxes, and other related data on a single sheet of paper for a manager to examine when making a decision. An electronic spreadsheet organizes information into software defined columns and rows. The data can then be "added up" by a formula to give a total or sum. The spreadsheet program summarizes information from many paper sources in one place and presents the information in a format to help a decision maker see the financial "big picture" for the company.

Beginnings and the "Tale of VisiCalc"

In 1961, Professor Richard Mattessich pioneered the development of computerized speadsheets for use in business accounting. Some historical information on the computerization of accounting spread sheets using mainframe computers is discussed on Mattessich's web page "Spreadsheet: Its First Computerization (1961-1964)". Rene Pardo and Remy Landau co-invented "LANPAR" LANguage for Programming Arrays at Random in 1969. This electronic spreadsheet type application was used for budgeting at Bell...
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