This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

The Hot Tech Setup…1950’s style

650-2July 2, 1953:  First Mass-Produced Computer

On July 2, IBM announced its 650 series of computers, the first mass-produced computer, and the dominant computer of the decade.  It featured a magnetic drum to store data as well as accept punched cards for input. The punched card idea for calculation dates back to Herman Hollerith’s tabulating machine used in the 1890 census.  That company eventually became IBM.

Herman Hollerith and the tabulating machine used in the 1890 census

Herman Hollerith and the tabulating machine used in the 1890 census

The IBM 650 stored information on a rotating magnetic drum and received it on programmed punch cards. Its memory stored numbers with up to 10 decimal digits.

DrumAtComputerHistoryMuseum

Magnetic Drum

235px-RoehreIBM_090325

Vacuum-tube

The 650 is a vacuum-tube logic, drum-memory, decimal — not binary — computer.  Data is stored in words containing ten decimal digits and a sign, and instructions operate on numbers stored in this format.  IBM called the 650 an automatic calculator, not a computer:

One of the most exciting achievements of our generation is the development of the electronic automatic digital calculator. Although any schoolboy can perform any operation done by the calculator, the speed and economy with which the calculator does them are so great that automatic calculation is revolutionizing large areas of science, engineering, business, industry, and defense. A single giant calculator can do more arithmetic than the entire population of the United States could do with pencil and paper.

Until the mid-to-late 1950s, the word “computer” referred to people who performed computations, not to machines.  But before the decade was out, “digital computer” applied to the 650 and other “giant brains” and a “calculator” was the clunky thing on your desk.

IBM 650 computer at Texas A&M University likely in 1950s

IBM 650 computer at Texas A&M University likely in 1950s

IBM 650 opened to show storage drum and rear of front panel.

IBM 650 opened to show storage drum and rear of front panel.

Originally a cards-only machine, the 650 was compatible with IBM’s popular line of unit record equipment (sorters, collators, punches, accounting machines, etc), but advances first seen in the 700 series were retrofitted to it over the years: magnetic tape drives, line printers; IBM 407 interconnect, RAMAC disk drive, core memory.

Here is the “Gamers” HOT setup:  Left to right: four Type 727 Magnetic Tape Units, a Type 652 Control Unit, Type 407 Accounting Machine (foreground), Type 653 Auxilliary Unit (high-speed storage, back), Type 650 Console Unit (foreground), Type 655 Power Unit (back), and a Type 533 Read-Punch Unit.

Here is the “Gamers” HOT setup: Left to right: four Type 727 Magnetic Tape Units, a Type 652 Control Unit, Type 407 Accounting Machine (foreground), Type 653 Auxilliary Unit (high-speed storage, back), Type 650 Console Unit (foreground), Type 655 Power Unit (back), and a Type 533 Read-Punch Unit.

IBM expected to deploy only about 50 of these systems, but the demand surprised them. The 650 was relatively cheap, carried a hefty academic discount, was compatible with existing card equipment, it would fit in one room, and it was “user friendly” — decimal arithmetic, small instruction set, handy console.

IBM 650 front panel, showing bi-quinary indicators

IBM 650 front panel, showing bi-quinary indicators

It was one of the first computers that could be used “hands on” by programmers.   In all, 2000 were installed in the nine years of manufacture (1953-62), surpassing the entire combined sales of all the 700 series.  Support for the 650 was withdrawn by IBM in 1969.

While the IBM 650 was not a super-hot machine, it did have one feature that made it sell: lots of blinking lights…

IBM_650_panel_close-up_of_bi-quinary_indicators

With that anyone could tell something was going on.  Some authors attribute the success of IBM to these blinking lights and the fact the computer used the same cards as the other unit record equipment of IBM.  Actually the output of your 650 program was punched on cards and you could take the deck over to a 402 Accounting Machine to get a print out.

The IBM 650 in Action:

For those of you interested here is a link to the Owners Manual pdf:http://bit.ly/14o5sPd

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