The world’s first spreadsheet software Debuted on Apple II

Made by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston

From Triumph of the Nerds
Dan, who had worked as a programmer, started daydreaming about how he could use a computer to replace the tedious hand calculations.

Dan Bricklin
I imagined that there was this magic blackboard that did like word processing does word wrapping - if you make a change to a word it automatically pulls everything back, well why no recalculate in the same way? So that if I change my number, you know, I should have used ten per cent instead of twelve per cent, I could just put it in and it would recalculate everything and go through it you know and that would be this idea of an electronic spread sheet.

Following a model that’s common today, Dan Bricklin designed the program, but got his friend Bob Frankston to write the actual computer code. After months of programming late at night when computer time was cheaper, the Harvard Business School blackboard came to life.

Dan Bricklin
Now weÍve set this up, OK. Then we type a new value in, then I’m going to take that one hundred, I’m going to change it right and here, it recalculated! Woa! That saved me so much time. People who saw it and went and got it like an accountant, I remember showing it to one around here and he started shaking and said that’s what I do all week, I could do it in an hour you know, you know, they would take their credit cards and shove them in your face. I meet these people now they come up to me and say I gotta tell you you know…
BOB: You changed my life.
DAN: You changed my life. You made accounting fun and…

Bob Frankston
VisiCalc Programmer
You have to remember what it was like in those days we did not use the word spreadsheet cause nobody knew what a spreadsheet was. I came up with the name visible calculator or visicalc because we wanted to emphasise that aspect.

But not all the PC pioneers made great fortunes. Dan Bricklin decided not to patent his spreadsheet idea. Though more than 100 million spreadsheets have been sold since 1979, Bricklin and Frankston haven’t earned VisiCalc royalties in years.

Dan Bricklin
You know, looking back at how successful a lot of other people have been it’s kind of sad that we weren’t as successful…

Bob Frankston
It would be very nice to be gazillionaires, but you can also understand that part of the reason was that that’s not what we’re trying to be.

Dan Bricklin
We’re kids of the Sixties and what did you want to do? You wanted to make the world better, and you wanted to make your mark on the world and improve things, and we did it. So by the mark of what we would measure ourselves by, we’re very successful.