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The Undersung Hero of Computing: The IBM 1400-Series1

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129951D
Original Publication Date: 1996-Sep-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 4 page(s) / 23K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Rudolph E. Hirsch: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

The IBM 1400-series of computers has not received the credit it deserves. The 1400-series (the IBM 1401, 1440, 1460, 1410, and 7010) was to computing what Ford's Model T was to motoring: not a technological breakthrough, but cheap, reliable, easy to use, and very widely accepted. If the Model T put the world on wheels, then the 1400-series computers put business data processing on computers. Unfortunately, today few persons are aware of it.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1996 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The Undersung Hero of Computing: The IBM 1400-Series11

Rudolph E. Hirsch

The IBM 1400-series of computers has not received the credit it deserves. The 1400-series (the IBM 1401, 1440, 1460, 1410, and 7010) was to computing what Ford's Model T was to motoring: not a technological breakthrough, but cheap, reliable, easy to use, and very widely accepted. If the Model T put the world on wheels, then the 1400-series computers put business data processing on computers. Unfortunately, today few persons are aware of it.

In the Beginning

The first commercially produced computer was installed in 1951, and by the end of the 1950s, computers were in wide use in most government agencies, universities, and large commercial organizations. They greatly speeded up scientific computations and batch applications and easily processed ever-larger work volumes, but they had some problems:

1) They were physically very large because of the vacuum-tube technology of the day, which in its turn, was a voracious consumer of air-conditioning. For example, the first computer I ever programmed, the IBM 704, demanded 40 tons of it!

2) They were very expensive, with purchase prices usually in the seven digits.

3) Printing was a perennial bottleneck.

There were some exceptions. The IBM 650, introduced around 1955, was less than-mainframe sized but very slow and suitable only for small applications. The IBM 1620 was also physically small and designed for simple scientific applications but nothing more ambitious. And, as did all computers then, both the 650 and 1620 lacked suitable punters: Punched cards were the 650's usual input/output media, and punched paper tape the 1620's.

The result of these problems was that only the largest organizations could install computers in- house. Smaller organizations open used service bureaus. In those days that meant physically taking software and data, usually in the form of large and heavy punched card decks, to the service bureau for processing there and then physically taking the software, data, and printed output away again.

In fact, few smaller organizations used computers at all. Some used tabulating equipment, also known' as electric accounting machines such as the IBM 402 and 407 tabulators, the 082 card sorter, etc. However, manual processing was the rule in most small organizations.

Printing was the biggest problem of them all. Computers provided quantum jumps in internal processing speeds but not in printing speeds. The result was that printing had difficulties in keeping up with computing. For most of the 1950s, computers used modified IBM 407 tabulators

1 1 Editor's Note: In this anecdote, Rudy Hirsch discusses the impact of the IBM 1401 and its associated 1403 printer on the business computing world of the late 1950s.

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