Lisp History

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Lisp was invented by John McCarthy in the late 1950's as a formalism for reasoning about the use of recursion equations as a model for computation. Of computer languages still in widespread use today, only FORTRAN is older.

Lisp has evolved with the field of Computer Science, always putting the best ideas from the field into practical use. In 1994, Common Lisp became the first ANSI standard to incorporate object oriented programming.

The early development of Lisp is described by McCarthy in "History of Lisp", 1978.

Two of the major developers of the language since then, Richard Gabriel and Guy Steele, presented "The Evolution of Lisp" at the 1993 ACM History of Programming Languages conference.

Kent Pitman and Brad Miller have compiled a brief on-line version of the history of Lisp from ANSI documents.

Herbert Stoyan began his study of the history of Lisp in the early 1970s, while in East Germany. He carried out this study by writing letters to everyone whose name he could find in the documents as well as by getting every book and report he could. In 1979 he applied to emigrate from East Germany, was arrested, spent six months in prison and then was permitted to emigrate to West Germany. When he got out of East Germany, he visited M.I.T. and examined every document he could find relevant to the history of Lisp and also interviewed everyone he could. He is now Professor of Computer Science at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Erlangen, Germany, where his group works on AI. His history of Lisp is also on-line.

Thanks to for this reference and bio.

The Lisp Family of Languages

A reflective Lisp. The Lisp system was based on an infinite tower of Lisp interpreters.
AutoLisp (Autocad)
Common Lisp
The result of a standardization effort, which began in the early 1980s. This is a highly portable, industrial strength Lisp with a variety of implementations and a wealth of tools and applications.
Elisp (EMACS)
The object oriented programming facility of Zetalisp. Major differences from the Common Lisp Object System include message passing rather than generic functions (more like Smalltalk) and a different inheritence ordering protocol.
Franz Lisp
This was a Lisp for conventional architectures, and the product that launched Franz, Inc.
This dialect was derived from BBN Lisp and developed at Xerox. It was the base for some early workstations. These systems had a nice comfortable user environment using mouse and windows. The language lives on in Medley. Was also the base for NoteCards, an early hypertext system. Commercialized as Medley.
Lisp 1.5
For reference see the book "LISP 1.5 Programmer's Manual, MIT Press"
The Lisp Object-Oriented Programming System. A close precursor to the Common Lisp Object System (CLOS). A fairly portable version is called PCL.
MacLisp was developed at MIT and had much influence on the design of Common Lisp. In particular, ZetaLisp and Scheme were descendent from it. Paper: "The Multics Maclisp Compiler -- the > Basic Hackery, a Tutorial".

The MAC in Maclisp had nothing to do with the Apple Macintosh, which did not come onto the computer scene until later. Rather, it referred to Project MAC, a research project at MIT which later became known as the Laboratory for Computer Science. The acronym MAC stood for no particular thing, but various meanings were attached, such as: "Men and Computers", "Minds and Cognition", "Machine-Aided Cognition", etc. (The symbolic algebra program Macsyma was originally written at Project MAC in Maclisp, hence the MAC in its name.)
(Thanks to Kent Pitman for the derivation of the name.)
Standard Lisp
Widely ported. Used for REDUCE (a Computer Algebra application). See: The Standard Lisp Report.
The implementation language for the Symbolics Lisp Machines. Has its roots in MacLisp.