The circumflex (
^) was equated to the up-arrow character on teleprinters. By the time SunOS and so forth came around, this part was more than 10 years in the past. The same character (replacement) was used in mathematical expressions, e.g.,
^ for powers (where some others might use
**). It was also used in Pascal to indicate pointers.
Used for indicating control characters, this dates (at least) before 1980. You can find it used in DEC documentation for instance (it was certainly in use by the mid-1970s when I used teco. The Utilities manual from 1973 (page 927) shows a controlC for instance.
Looking for a suitable source, I find Teletypewriter Communication Codes by Gil Smith which says enough to place this in the late 1960s (demonstrating that the origin is pre-Unix, as well):
ASCII-63 was mostly identical to the current ASCII-67 version. The definitions of the control characters (col-1
above) varied between the two versions, as defined below. Also, in ASCII-63, the upper 32 positions (col-4) were
undefined, except for three: RUB (0x7F), ACK (0x7C), and ESC (0x7E). There are inconsistent references to an
ALT-MODE char (0x7D) in ASCII-63. In the 1967 version, RUB became DEL and stayed in the same position,
but ACK and ESC moved into the control character area (col-1). In ASCII-67, ^ replaced the up-arrow symbol,
and _ replaced the left-arrow
ASCII-63 and ASCII-67 are the common variants of ASCII, but there appear to have been some transitional
versions as well: in the Teletype Model 33 manual, there are references to a 1965 version of ASCII, that had SS in
place of SUB (0x1A), \ for @ (0x40), ~ for \ (0x5C), an odd character in place of | (0x7C), and | for ~ (0x7E). A
Teletype code card for M33 and M35 machines indicates a 1966 version of ASCII, though the printable characters
shown on the card were identical in all versions.
This used to be well-known, due to the problems of interchanging files between different encodings such as ASCII and EBCDIC where there were still printers capable of rendering up-arrows as such long after the character no longer existed in ASCII.