The computer scientist working at Bell Labs in New York in 1969 who wrote C. He and colleague Ken Thompson also wrote the Unix operating system. A system whose derivatives run Android and iPhones, the Mac OS X, Solaris, and of course all Linux systems.
Possibly the language that has contributed to the shaping of modern society more than any other. Can that profound opening statement be justified? C's history is entwined with that of Unix. C was the catalyst which enable the Unix operating system to become so widespead. Unix underpins much of the infrastructure of the internet. Many of the standard internet protocols used now were written in C. The growth of Unix systems established the widespread use of these internet protocols.
Developed as a lean, fast language with a modest set of programming features. C programs run fast, and C code is easy to port to other platforms. It's faster than any other language in common use today. It has become one of the most popular computer languages ever. Many languages have been influenced by C (C++. Objective C, Perl, PHP, Java, C#, Python, D).
C was intended to make the Unix operating system easier to port to new machines. C's history goes hand in hand with Unix. Unix is the operating system that both Linux and MAC OS-X are based on. Unix (and C of course) were distributed by AT&T to government and academic institutions, leading to rapid expansion of Unix (and C) to a large number of platforms. Major commercial variants of Unix were also marketed.
It is relatively easy to convert C code into native machine instructions. At the time C was developed operating systems were written in Assembler. Assember is much harder to write than C code. C is therefore fast and produces compact code. It is also machine independant which means C code written on one platform (PC say) will compile on another platform (Unix) with little or no amendment.
In 1972, most operating systems were written in assembler, which is much harder to code and varies with each type of computer. Unix (originally written in assembler) was re-written in C, making Unix much easier to produce on new platforms.
C's independance from the host machine meant C programs could be more easily ported to new platforms. C is now available on platforms as diverse as embedded systems on DVD players for example, to mobile phones, PCs right up to the largest mainframe computers.
In recent years apart from the huge amount of legacy applications written in C over the past 30 plus years there is continuing interest in C for embedded systems and small platforms which have limited memory and processing power.