Chm Blog Remarkable People

In Memoriam: Niklaus Wirth (1934–2024)

By Dag Spicer | January 05, 2024

Increasingly, people seem to misinterpret complexity as sophistication, which is baffling—the incomprehensible should cause suspicion rather than admiration.

— Niklaus Wirth

With sadness we note the passing of Niklaus Emil Wirth, Swiss computer scientist and 2004 CHM Fellow, who died at the age of 89 on January 1, 2024.

Niklaus Wirth was born in Winterthur, Switzerland, in 1934. He received the degree of electronics engineer from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH-Zurich) in 1959, an MSc from Laval University (1960), and a PhD in electrical engineering and computer science from UC Berkeley (1963).

Upon graduation from Berkeley, Wirth became an assistant professor at the newly created computer science department of Stanford University. From 1968 until his retirement in 1999, he was a professor at ETH in Zurich. There, he developed the programming languages Pascal (1970), Modula-2 (1979), and Oberon (1988). Pascal, in particular, became a widely used programming language in computer science education and influenced a generation of students and professional programmers.

Following two separate sabbatical leaves at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in California, Wirth became an enthusiastic adopter of the groundbreaking workstations he saw there, and returned home inspired to build similar systems. While doing so, he simultaneously created several elegant and useful programming languages and environments that had profound research implications.

Wirth contributed to both hardware and software aspects of computer design and wrote influential books on software engineering and structured programming. Among other recognitions, he holds the ACM Turing Award (1984).

Main Image: Professor Wirth (right) receiving 2004 CHM Fellow Award from CHM CEO John Toole (left).

Learn More

Niklaus Wirth items in CHM’s permanent collection, include:

Lecture: “Odysseys in Technology: How I Became Interested in Programming Languages,” by Niklaus Wirth. []

“The Personal Computer Lilith,” by Niklaus Wirth. []

“MODULA-2” by Niklaus Wirth. []

Computer History Museum Fellow Awards 2004 Video. []

Other Items related to Wirth and his work:

About The Author

Dag Spicer oversees the Museum’s permanent historical collection, the most comprehensive repository of computers, software, media, oral histories, and ephemera relating to computing in the world. He also helps shape the Museum’s exhibitions, marketing, and education programs, responds to research inquiries, and has given hundreds of interviews on computer history and related topics to major print and electronic news outlets such as NPR, the New York Times, The Economist, and CBS News. A native Canadian, Dag most recently attended Stanford University before joining the Museum in 1996.

Join the Discussion


FacebookTwitterCopy Link