Early History of Spreadsheets

General: Main page  Early history  A Brief History  Historical Background
Software on windows: Excel  Lotus 1-2-3
Software on Linux: Free Spreadsheets Commercial Spreadsheets

Spreadsheet: Its First Computerization (1961-1964)

By Richard Mattessich

The term "spread sheet" (nowadays "spreadsheet") has a long tradition; reference to its non-computerized version can be found in the first edition of Eric L. Kohler's Dictionary for Accountants (1952--for recent editions see: W.W. Cooper and Y. Ijiri: Kohler's Dictionary for Accountants, Prentice-Hall, Inc.) and refers to a worksheet providing a two way analysis of accounting data (e.g., an accounting matrix in which the columns and rows constitute either debit and credit sides respectively or reverse).

In the early 1960s, Richard Mattessich (then at the University of California at Berkeley; since 1967 at the University of British Columbia) pioneered computerized spread sheets for business accounting--first in a paper "Budgeting Models and System Simulation" (The Accounting Review, July 1961: 384-397) and later in two books Accounting and Analytical Methods (Chpt. 9 which contains the mathematical proto-type model) and Simulation of the Firm Through a Budget Computer Program (both, Homewood, IL: R.D. Irwin, Inc., 1964) which contains, among others, print-out illustrations and the computer program (the latter written in FORTRAN IV by two of his research assistants, Tom C. Schneider and Paul A. Zitlau). This contribution (anticipating such best-selling spreadsheet programs for Personal Computers as VisiCalc, Lotus 1-2-3, Excel, et.) has variously been recognized in the accounting and related literature, for example:

"Accounting and Analytical Methods also presages much of Mattessich's subsequent work, in which he probes in much greater depth the issues raised here. Simulation of the Firm through a Budget Computer Program (1964) foreshadows the basic principles behind today's computer spreadsheets: the use of matrices, (budget) simulation, and, most important, the calculation that support each matrix cell." From: George J. Murphy,"Mattessich, Richard V. (1922-), in Michael Chatfield and Richard Vangermeersch, eds., The History of Accounting--An International Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing Co., Inc, 1997): 405.

"At Berkeley he [Mattessich] was to write two books, the first Accounting and Analytical Methods--Measurement and Projection of Income and Wealth in the Micro and Macro Economy (Irwin 1964) and the second, Simulation of the Firm Through a Budget Computer Program (Irwin 1964). While the first is generally regarded as a classic in the accounting literature, is well known and has been well received, the second, less well read title, also had significant impact on the development of the discipline. It, together with an article written three years earlier, sets out the elements of what later generations of accountants have come to accept as a standard tool in the discipline, namely computerized financial spread sheets." From: M.J.R. Gaffikin, "Seeking the Foundations for Accounting Research," Asia-Pacific Journal of Accounting (June 1996): 102-103.

"He [Mattessich] also pioneered financial spread sheet analysis and simulation and did the basic research on which such best selling micro-computer programmes as Visi-Calc, super-Calc, Lotus 1-2-3, etc. are based. His book Simulation of the Firm through a Budget Computer Program (1964) contains the following basic ideas, decades later revived in those micro computer programmes: the use of matrices or spread sheets, the simulation of financial events, and most importantly, the support of individual figures by entire formulas behind each entry." From: Hugh Legg "Ricco Mattessich: Acclaimed Researcher," Viewpoints (Summer 1988): 15.

"On a deeper level, one must understand that his [Mattessich's] advocacy of various accounting alternatives is in no way ad hoc, ex post rationalization of extant practice, but is based on a rigorous, instrumental methodological framework. [p. 131]...Whether his predictions will come true or not....I would venture a guess that a reader of Mattessich's "Budget Models and System Simulation" ([The Accounting Review, July] 1961) could scarcely have imagined, twenty years later, the many practitioners (and even undergraduate students!) using microcomputers and doing just what he advocated with `Lotus 1-2-3'." From: D. Thornton, "Book Review of Richard V. Mattessich (ed.) Modern Accounting Research: History, Survey and Guide..." in Contemporary Accounting Research (Fall 1985): 131, 137.

Although Mattessich's work was also mentioned in the economic and computer literature, computerized spreadsheets became only popular in the 1980s, after the introduction of Personal Computers. In 1979, Daniel Bricklin "the Father of VisiCalc" and his collaborator and programmer, Bob Franksten, created the first "killer application" for Personal Computers, which also was a computerized spreadsheet for accounting purposes.


Note: This page is modified from Spreadsheets: History of the Term.