What Is the First Truly Object-Oriented Programming Language?


Angela Bailey

What Is the First Truly Object-Oriented Programming Language?

Object-oriented programming (OOP) is a popular programming paradigm that focuses on creating reusable code through the use of objects. It allows for easier code maintenance, better organization, and improved code reusability.

While many programming languages today support OOP, there was a time when this paradigm was not yet fully realized. In this article, we’ll explore the history of object-oriented programming and discuss which language can be considered as the first truly object-oriented programming language.

The Birth of Object-Oriented Programming

The concept of OOP originated in the 1960s with Simula, a programming language developed by Ole-Johan Dahl and Kristen Nygaard at the Norwegian Computing Center. Simula introduced key concepts such as classes, objects, inheritance, and dynamic binding.

However, Simula was primarily designed for simulation purposes and did not gain widespread adoption.

In the 1970s, Alan Kay at Xerox PARC started developing a programming language called Smalltalk. Smalltalk is often credited as being the first true object-oriented programming language.

It was designed from scratch to be purely object-oriented, with everything treated as an object. Smalltalk introduced features like message passing and encapsulation that are core principles of OOP.

The Features of Smalltalk

Smalltalk had several features that set it apart from previous languages and defined it as a truly object-oriented programming language:

  • Everything is an Object: In Smalltalk, everything is an object including numbers, strings, and even classes themselves.
  • Message Passing: Communication between objects in Smalltalk is done through message passing. Objects send messages to each other to request or perform actions.
  • Encapsulation: Smalltalk supports encapsulation, which means that objects can hide their internal state and only expose certain methods or properties.
  • Inheritance and Polymorphism: Smalltalk supports class inheritance, allowing new classes to be derived from existing ones. It also allows for polymorphism, where objects of different classes can be treated interchangeably.

The Impact and Legacy of Smalltalk

Smalltalk had a significant impact on the development of object-oriented programming and influenced many subsequent programming languages. It served as the inspiration for languages like C++, Objective-C, Ruby, and even Java.

C++ was one of the first mainstream languages to adopt object-oriented principles, introducing features like classes, inheritance, and polymorphism. Objective-C combined Smalltalk’s message passing with C’s syntax to create a powerful language used in Apple’s Cocoa framework.

Ruby borrowed many concepts from Smalltalk, including its dynamic nature and message passing syntax.

Java, although not directly derived from Smalltalk, also owes much of its design to Smalltalk’s influence. Java adopted the concept of virtual machines and garbage collection from Smalltalk while providing a more simplified syntax and strong type checking.


While Simula laid the groundwork for object-oriented programming, it was Smalltalk that truly embodied the principles of OOP. With its focus on objects, message passing, encapsulation, and inheritance, Smalltalk set the standard for what would become modern object-oriented programming languages.

Its impact can still be seen today in popular languages like C++, Objective-C, Ruby, and Java.

Understanding the history of object-oriented programming is essential for any programmer looking to master this paradigm. By studying the origins and evolution of OOP, developers can gain a deeper understanding of its core concepts and apply them effectively in their own projects.

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