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Robert S. Barton
Robert S. Barton

Robert Stanley "Bob" Barton (February 13, 1925 – January 28, 2009) was recognized as the chief architect of the Burroughs B5000 and other computers such as the B1700, and a co-inventor of dataflow. Barton's thinking has been broadly influential. As one example, Barton influenced the systems and higher-level computer language thinking of Alan Kay who went on to further develop object-oriented programming, co-design Smalltalk, and develop concepts key to modern GUI systems built into the Macintosh and later Microsoft Windows.

Barton designed machines at a more abstract level, not tied to the technology constraints of the time. He employed high-level languages and a stack machine in his design of the Burroughs Corporation B5000 computer. Barton's B5000 design survives in the modern Unisys Burroughs MCP. His work with stack architectures was the first implementation in a mainframe computer. Hewlett-Packard would later use the stack architecture in its HP 3000 computers, and in HP calculators with Reverse Polish Notation (RPN).

Barton died on January 28, 2009, in Portland, Oregon, at the age of 83.[1][2]


Barton was born in New Britain, Connecticut in 1925 and received his BA in 1948, and his MS in 1949 in Mathematics, from the University of Iowa. His early experience with computers was when he worked in the IBM Applied Science Department in 1951.

In 1954, he joined the Shell Oil Company Technical Services, working on programming applications.

While at Shell, in preparing for a conference in Michigan in 1958, Barton was reading Irving Copi's 1954 textbook on "Symbolic Logic" and saw a reference in it to Polish notation.[3] This made him curious about it and its application to arithmetic expressions and their processing on a computer. He also then read the works of Jan Łukasiewicz, who had invented "Polish Notation" back in the early 20th century for use in logic.[3]

Barton joined Burroughs Corporation (ElectroData Division) in Pasadena, California in the late 1950s after he had worked for some time at Shell Development, a research arm of the Shell Oil Company in Texas where he used and programmed an early Burroughs/Datatron 205 computer.[3]

He managed a system programming group in 1959 which developed an ALGOL-like compiler for Burroughs. The early programming language was known as BALGOL and was implemented for the Burroughs 220 machine. The language and compiler were an early implementation of the International Algebraic Language (IAL) also known as ALGOL 58.[4]

In 1960, he became a consultant for Beckman Instruments working on data collection from satellite systems, for Lockheed Corporation working on satellite systems and organizing of data processing services, and for Burroughs continuing to work on the design concepts of the B5000.

After an assignment in Australia in 1963 for Control Data Corporation, he returned in 1965 to join the Computer Science staff of the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Utah. From 1968 to 1973 he taught as a professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Utah with David C. Evans, Ivan Sutherland, and Thomas Stockham. His Ph.D. students at the University of Utah were Duane Call, co-founder of Computer System Architects; Alan Ashton, co-founder of WordPerfect; and Al Davis, University of Utah professor of computer science. Other Utah students that he influenced included: Alan Kay, James H. Clark co-founder of Silicon Graphics, John Warnock, co-founder of Adobe Systems, Ed Catmull of Pixar, Henri Gouraud (Gouraud shading) and Bui Tuong Phong (Phong shading).

After 1973, he devoted his full-time to Burroughs Systems Research in La Jolla, San Diego, California, working on new computer architectures and systems programming.


  • IEEE 1977 W. Wallace McDowell Award Recipient. “For his innovative architectural computer concepts, such as stack processing, data stored with self-describing tags, and the direct execution of higher level languages, as embodied in the B-5000 and successor machines”
  • Barton was the first recipient of the ACM/IEEE Computer Society Eckert–Mauchly Award in 1979: For his outstanding contributions in basing the design of computing systems on the hierarchical nature of programs and their data.
  • Charter Computer Pioneer by the IEEE Computer Society for his work in Language Directed Architecture.

Selected papers

  • Barton, Robert S., "Functional Design of Computers", Communications of the ACM 4(9): 405 (1961)
  • Barton, Robert S., "A New Approach to the Functional Design of a Digital Computer", Proceedings of the Western Joint Computer Conference, May 1961, pp. 393–396.
  • Barton, Robert S., "A Critical Review of the State of Programming Art", AFIPS Joint Computer Conferences, May 1963, pp 169–177.
  • Barton, Robert S., “Ideas for Computer Systems Organization: A Personal Survey”, Software Engineering, vol. 1, Academic Press, New York, 1970, pp. 7–16.


"Systems programmers are the high priests of a low cult." (1967)[5]

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