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Robert William Bemer

Feb. 08, 1920, Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, USA

June 22 2004, Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas, USA


bemer_bob.jpg (11606 bytes)
Bob Bemer

principal papers
1960 "ESCape - a proposal for character code compatibility"
(sine qua non for the Web and everything)
1968 "Machine-controlled production environment"
(software factory)
1973 "Computers and our society"
(beginning of social consciousness for computer use)
1971/9 "Time and the computer"
(first Y2K warning, and WWW basic document)
1998 "XDAY! eXchange DAY -- a proposal by Bob Bemer"
(the best way to handle time in computers)



see also

related subjects



  • At Lockheed, he devised the first computerized 3-D dynamic perspective,
    prelude to today's computer animation.
  • In 1959 his internal IBM memo proposed word processing. 
  • He coined the terms "COBOL", "CODASYL", and "Software Factory".
  • He was the major force in developing ASCII (contributing 6 characters --
    ESCape (see that key), FS, GS, RS, US, and the backslash). He invented the
    escape sequence and registry concept, and called himself the "Father of ASCII". No global intercommunication can be effective without a common language: ASCII

ASCII license plate
License plate of Bob Bemer's Ford Expedition
Steve Hebert / Abilene Reporter-News

  • The principle of timesharing, which was first getting many people to use one computer simultaneously, evolving into many people using many computers simultaneously.
  • The escape sequence concept. Critical to terminals (for colors, screen movement), but absolutely necessary for laser printers (which won't work without them), and to HTML itself.
  • The Identification and Environment Divisions of COBOL are due to him, as is the Picture Clause, which could have avoided the Year 2000 problem if used correctly.
  • He is recognized as the first person in the world to publish warnings of the Year 2000 problem -- first in 1971, and again in 1979.



Bob Bemer born in 1920 is married to Bettie, a Texas oil woman, The license on her Mercedes is "ESC KEY". Bob Bemer became a programmer in early 1949 and did not stop working as one since then.
He as one of the few privileged pioneers watched computers take over our lives, integrating into society with the speed of light.
He has worked at RAND Corporation, Marquardt, Lockheed, IBM (director of programming standards), Univac, Bull GE, General Electric, and Honeywell.

Bob Bemer, who helped invent the language used by most of the world's computers to translate text to numbers: ASCII
Without the invention of the computer code ASCII, there would be no e-mail, no World Wide Web, no laser printers and no video games. Mr. Bemer, donned himself "the father of ASCII" title helped to create the ASCII code in 1961. That was done by assigning standard numeric values to letters, numbers, punctuation marks and other characters. "We had over 60 different ways to represent characters in computers,'' Mr. Bemer told Computerworld magazine in 1999, describing the time before the American Standard Code for Information Interchange was created. It was a real Tower of Babel.''(5)

Throughout his career, Mr. Bemer had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He helped Hopper create the computer language that he coined COBOL, or Common Business Oriented Language. He helped create the standard measurement of eight bits per byte. Computer users have Mr. Bemer to thank for the backslash character and for the escape sequence, which allows a computer to break from one language and enter another.(5)

In 1971 he first published a warning about the problems that would arise from using two digits instead of four to represent years in computer code; the so called Y2K problem. Unlike some doomsayers, he knew what he was talking about: He was involved in the original effort to create government standards for the computer industry. But as all prophets no one listened and eventually an estimated $122 billion was spent in the United States alone to fix the Y2K problem (6)

Bob Bemer died of cancer Tuesday, 22 jun 2004 at his home on Possum Kingdom Lake in Texas. He was 84.

In his lifetime he was married six times to five women and had five children by his first wife and a sixth by another. He also had two stepchildren, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.(8)



1920 Birth of Robert (Bob) Bemer

1940 Bachelor's degree in mathematics at Albion College

1941 Certificate of aeronautical engineering at the Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute in Santa Monica the next year and started to work for aeronautics firm Douglas, as constructor.

1949 Becomes a programmer

1951 He spent time as a machinist, furniture maker and movie-set designer before he was hired as a programmer at RAND Corporation this year.

1952 - 1957 Starts to work for Lockheed, to work on the mathematical analyses of wings and flow profiles.

1957 - 1965 Bemer works at IBM, where he in time became responsible for all programming standards and in this connection co-developed the ASCII standard in 1961.

1958 While doing development work for his Mormon church on the genealogical data collections turning it into the largest genealogical database on earth Bemer recognized the basic problem of two digit years like "45". From this he developed his thoughts and articles for the "Millennium Bug"

1959 Co-developed COBOL to be published in 1960

1961 Co-developed the computer code ASCII

1965 - 1970 Works at Bull in Paris,

1970 - 1974 Organizes at General Electric the software departments after his idea of the "Software Factory".

1971 First published a warning on Y2K, the "Millennium Bug"

1974 - 1990 Works as an independent consultant at Honeywell.

1982 official retirement but keeps on publishing and working from his home office

1997 Founds BMRSoftware (Bob Bemer Software) sells it to BigiSoft, to sell software for the Y2K-Problem.

2004 dies of cancer


Honors and awards

2003 Received the IEEE Computer Pioneer Award for his lifetime achievements



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Footnotes & References

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