Brian Kernighan, ‘Hello World’, 1978, Algorithm Auction
Brian Kernighan, ‘Hello World’, 1978, Algorithm Auction

This is the iconic greeting—and challenge—that welcomes new programmers to the realm of computer code. This lot commemorates a basic and still standard programming exercise—devised by Brian Kernighan of Bells Labs in 1978—dear to hearts of all technologists.

Among computer scientists, the Bell Labs researchers of the 1960s and ’70s are regarded with a kind of reverence. They are viewed as equal parts Lewis and Clark and Albert Einstein: pathbreaking leaders and intellectual titans. Their legacy is brought home to nearly every student of computing by the phrase “Hello, World.”

The words denote a basic programming exercise devised by Bell Labs technologist Brian Kernighan in 1978. On the theory that we learn best by doing, all novice computer programmers are tasked with writing code that will prompt a computer to display or print “Hello, World.” The phrase is a universal touchstone, the first step in a programmer’s journey.

Read the technologist's statement.

This lot includes a copy of the Hello World algorithm, handwritten in original C syntax on acid-free dot-matrix computer paper, signed by Brian Kernighan. This lot also includes a license permitting the buyer to access and view the algorithm digitally for archival use (see the full lot listing for license terms and conditions). This lot also includes a commemorative 3D-printed Babylonian styled tablet containing the password to a private Github repository where the buyer may access the full source of the Hello World algorithm and an image of the lot. The tablet is in two parts with combined dimensions 6.9 x 3.4 x .76 in.

Code License and Seller's Warranty

This lot (“Lot”) offered for sale in the Algorithm Auction (“Auction”) includes a license (“License”) to use certain computer code related to this Lot (“Code”), subject to the following terms (“License Terms”), which include the Seller’s Warranty provided below. The party selling this Lot in the Auction, Brian Kernighan (the “Seller”), grants (and agrees to grant) the party that purchases this lot in the Auction (the “Buyer”) a limited, non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable license (the “License”) to download, store, and view the Code as provided to the Buyer, only in digital format, on a device owned or controlled by the Buyer, for personal, internal, non-commercial purposes. The License does not include the right to create derivative works from, publish or distribute the Code (or any copy or part of the Code) in any manner, or to incorporate the Code (or any copy or part of the Code) into other works. This License may be transferred in whole, but it may not be sub-licensed in whole or part. This License is subject to the Buyer fulfilling all of its obligations under the Artsy Conditions of Sale, which apply to the Auction and are posted at: This License is non-exclusive, and subject to this License, the Seller retains any copyright they may have in the Code.

The Seller represents and warrants to the Buyer that: (i) the Seller has all necessary rights and authority, and has obtained any and all necessary third-party licenses and permissions, to authorize the sale and transfer of the License to the Buyer as part of this Lot; (ii) the Code is not subject to any additional third-party licenses; and (iii) subject to these License Terms, the Buyer may exercise the License without violating any intellectual property right or other right of any third party, and without needing to obtain any additional license or permission from any third party (“Seller’s Warranty”). This Seller’s Warranty will supersede any disclaimers made by the Seller in the Artsy Conditions of Sale. The Buyer acknowledges that neither Artsy nor Smithsonian Institution is in any way responsible for the Seller’s Warranty, and the Seller alone is responsible to the Buyer in these regards.

Please note: The buyer of this lot may not deduct any part of the purchase price as a charitable contribution. Access to Github is not guaranteed and is subject to Github's terms of service. This lot is not part of Smithsonian or Cooper Hewitt collections or property.

Signature: Signed on recto

About Brian Kernighan

A renowned computer scientist, prolific author, and Princeton University professor, Brian Kernighan was a member of the legendary Bell Labs team that, in the late 1960's and through the Seventies, developed and cultivated such fundamental and far-reaching computing innovations as the Unix operating system and the C programming language. His best-selling books on programming—including such seminal works as The Elements of Programming Style, written with P. J. Plauger, and The C Programming Language, co-authored by C’s chief designer, Dennis W. Ritchie—have sold millions of copies and been translated into more than two dozen languages. Kernighan teaches in the computer science department at Princeton, where his courses include “Computers in Our World,” considered one of the finest nontechnical introductions to the essentials of computing and programming for humanities students.

b. 1942