The first hard disk drive

IBM RAMACIBM announces the IBM 305 RAMAC (Random Access Memory Accounting) mainframe, a computer as large as two refrigerators, containing the new 350 Disk Storage Unit, the world’s first hard disk drive. The nearly-six-foot-high drive consists of a huge metal case surrounding a towering stack of 50 double-sided magnetic platters, adding up to a total capacity of four megabytes. In 1958, IBM will introduce the option to double capacity by adding a second stack of drive platters to the casing. The 305 RAMAC and 350 Disk Storage Unit together weigh over a ton, and are leased to IBM’s clients for $3,200 per month.


Space AgeUnder the direction of President Eisenhower, the U.S. Department of Defense establishes a high-tech think tank, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), to conduct scientific and technological research with both national security implications and purely for technological advancement. The formation of ARPA is a direct response to the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite, and in the years ahead ARPA will lay the cornerstone of what will later become known as the Internet, as well as making significant strides in space science, though the space-related part of ARPA’s initial charter will later be transferred to a new agency called NASA. As the Cold War heats up, ARPA will be renamed DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and its slate of R&D projects will become almost entirely military-oriented.

The integrated circuit

Jack KilbyImplementing a revolutionary new take on an idea that has existed on paper since the 1940s, recently-hired Texas Instruments engineer Jack Kilby demonstrates the first fully-functional integrated circuit, with all of the electronic components encased in germanium. While the U.S. Air Force immediately places an order for TI’s new integrated circuits, other engineers continue to refine Kilby’s invention, with Fairchild Semiconductor producing ICs encased in silicon. The move to silicon for ICs leads to smaller electronic devices and the development of microcomputer technology.


SpacewarAt the 1962 Open House held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a student programming project is unveiled on the school’s new DEC PCP-1 computer. In an attempt to demonstrate the machine’s real-time processing power in a context that can be understood by the general public, Steve Russell and his cohorts allow visitors to play the first computer game, Spacewar. The product of months of design and hundreds of man-hours of coding, Spacewar allows two players to navigate their way around the gravity of a sun while trying to blow each other to bits (as displayed on a round oscilloscope). Never patented or copyrighted, Spacewar goes on to “inspire” countless copies, including one of the earliest coin-operated arcade video games, Computer Space.

A computer for everyone! In the future!

UNIVACIn the Hillsboro Press-Gazette, ENIAC and UNIVAC co-creator Dr. John Mauchly predicts that there will come “a time when everyone will carry his own personal computer”, even going so far as to anticipate portable “hand computers” used for such tasks as interactive shopping lists. Mauchly’s predictions aren’t 100% accurate, however: by the 21st century, groceries do not arrive via delivery chutes in every home, and he fails to anticipate the use of “hand computers” to access social networks or view amusingly captioned photos of cats.

The Mother of All Demos

The Mother of All DemosAt the Fall Joint Computer Conference held at the San Francisco Convention Center, computer visionary Douglas Englebart demonstrates a collaborative computer system loaded down with groundbreaking technologies: the first computer mouse, driving a point-and-click object-oriented graphical user interface, bitmapped graphics, hypertext, real-time video conferencing, and a live networked collaborative space. Decades later, computer historians give this event – billed in the conference program as “a research center for augmenting human intellect” – a new name: the mother of all demos.

You’ve got mail

InternetsComputer engineer and recent MIT graduate Ray Tomlinson, working on the nascent ARPANET project, adds minor new features to an experimental file transfer protocol and, in so doing, sends the first network e-mail. This first message doesn’t have far to travel – it arrives at another computer terminal in the same room – but it is the beginning of e-mail on ARPANET, a feature which is adopted so widely and so quickly that it accounts for 75% of all ARPANET data traffic just two years later. Tomlinson is also credited for inventing the user@destination e-mail address format.

IBM 3340: the Winchester hard drive

IBM Model 3340IBM introduces the Model 3340 hard disk drive system for its System/370 mainframe computers. Housed in a large casing similar to a combined washer and dryer, this is the birth of modern hard disk technology, with read and write heads integral to the drive itself rather than being mounted on an arm which reaches into the drive casing. The 3340’s removable modules, each containing drive platters and the read/write heads, can be swapped out with other modules containing other drives. IBM ships the 3340 with two maximum storage capacities: 35 megabytes or 70 megabytes; the unit is internally called a Winchester hard drive, a case of a code name that sticks well beyond development. The 3340 is available through 1984.

Community Memory

Community MemoryEarly networked computing pioneers Lee Felsenstein, Efrem Lipkin and Mark Szpakowski open the first public Community Memory terminal at Leopold’s Records in Berkeley, California. With read-only access for free (and a 25-cent charge to add information to the database, which is maintained on a SDS 940 mainframe at TransAmerica Corporation and accessed via 110 baud acoustic modem), the intention is to computerize the popular push-pin-powered public notice board. Other terminals are eventually made available at various locations, but the SDS 940 proves to be inadequate, and this first iteration of the Community Memory Project will eventually be deactivated in January 1975. Some computer historians regard this as the first computer bulletin board system, although it was accessible only by being physically present at one of the provided nodes. The first dial-up BBS will not appear until 1978.

Altair 8800

Altair 8800The January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics Magazine goes on sale days before Christmas 1974, with its cover article heralding the arrival of the MITS Altair 8800 microcomputer. The first open-architecture microcomputer, the Altair is available in kit form or fully assembled, with 4K of RAM built around an Intel 8080 processor. Expecting to sell a few hundred kits, MITS founder Ed Roberts finds himself flooded with so many orders that he has to hire additional workers to start catching up with the backlog of purchases, with the time from order to delivery stretching into months. This is the beginning of the modern computer revolution, with companies other than MITS producing peripherals and software for the Altair. The most notable of these third-party vendors is a newly-formed company called Microsoft – a two-man operation founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen – which produces a working version of the BASIC language for the Altair.

Games with cartridges

Alpex Corporation, an American computer company, files “the ‘555 Patent” for a “television display control apparatus” capable of loading software from ROM chips embedded in swappable cartridges and other media. This patent effectively shifts the infant video game industry from a hardware-based model to a software-based model, and is licensed by Fairchild Semiconductor for the first cartridge-based video game, the Fairchild Video Entertainment System (later known as Channel F), a year later; the resulting sea change forces a sudden reassessment in the R&D departments at Atari and Magnavox, among others. Due to the remarkably broad nature of patent #4026555, Alpex will be able to take nearly every video game manufacturer to court to force them to license the technology from Alpex through the early ’90s. The first major challenge to Alpex’s patent will come from Nintendo in 1986, a case that will eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997 – by which time Alpex will go bankrupt pursuing the case.

Micro-Soft BASIC

Altair 8800Having formed a company mere months before, Micro-Soft – in the persons of young Bill Gates and Paul Allen – make good on their sales pitch to develop a workable BASIC programming language for the Altair 8800 microcomputer. The manufacturer of the Altair, MITS, licenses Micro-Soft BASIC from Gates and Allen, who have put college and everything else on hold to move to Albuquerque to work with the company. Over the next few years, the newly-founded Micro-Soft will create versions of BASIC for other emerging computer systems, and will collide with the free-sharing ethos of computer hobbyist groups, resulting in some of the earliest accusations of computer software piracy.

Apple II

Apple IIApple Computer introduces the Apple II home computer system, an already-built 4K computer (with an optional upgrade to 48K) capable of displaying color graphics on a TV or monitor, and storing programs on either cassette or floppy disk. The computer ships with an implementation of BASIC written by Steve Wozniak, with an optional pair of paddle controllers for games. The system also has an open architecture, with space for expansion cards (and no restriction on what cards can be developed, or by whom).

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CBBS: first computer bulletin board system

CBBSProgrammers Ward Christensen and Randy Suess put their brainchild, the CBBS or Computer Bulletin Board System, online for the first time. Accessible to anyone with a computer modem and a phone line, CBBS allows users to log in one at a time since the system is limited to a single phone line; messages both public and private can be posted. Christensen and Suess become the first SysOps, or System Operators, responsible for both technical maintenance and moderation of the system’s content. Similar bulletin board systems spring up across America and elsewhere (indeed, in the late 1980s, theLogBook itself will be launched as a series of text files on such a BBS).

Atari Home Computers

Atari 400Atari introduces the Atari 400 and Atari 800 home computers, one of the company’s first major product lines to show the imprint of Warner Communications. With only 8K of RAM (expandable to 16K), the Atari 400 (shown here) is intended to be more of a game machine, while the 48K Atari 800, with an actual keyboard, is intended to make inroads into the increasingly crowded home computer market. The same basic architecture, with significant modifications, will form the core of Atari’s next-generation video game console, the Atari 5200, which will be released in 1982.

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Flight TE901

TE-901Air New Zealand Flight 901, a sightseeing flight making a round trip to Antarctica and then back to Auckland without landing, is lost with all hands when it crashes into the slopes of Mt. Erebus in Antarctica. Later investigations reveal that the flight crew and passengers were doomed by a typo made during autopilot data entry, switching the plane’s course from a low-altitude flyover of MacMurdo Sound to a low-altitude collision course with the mountain. (Also uncovered are the great lengths taken by Air New Zealand to accuse the crew of incompetence.) The steps taken to uncover the truth mark the birth of modern air disaster investigation, and the end of Antarctic sightseeing flights for at least a decade.

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Hard drives at home

Corvus OmniNetCorvus Systems introduces its Winchester hard disk drive for the Apple II computer, available with five or ten megabytes of storage. A bulky device requiring its own power supply independent of the computer to which it’s connected, the Winchester drive carries a $5,000 price tag and an unconventional data backup system, Corvus Mirror, which uses videocassettes (also a fairly new technology). As the investment in this new mass storage technology is fairly daunting, Corvus will introduce a networking system the following year to allow multiple computers access to a single hard drive.

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Apple III

Apple IIIApple Computer introduces the newest upgrade of its Apple II architecture, the oversized Apple III computer, aimed squarely at the business computing market that Apple has stumbled into as a result of VisiCalc‘s success. The monolithic machine suffers from technical problems from the outset, resulting in recalls and repairs to most early adopters’ Apple III units. With barely 100,000 units sold over three years, Apple pulls the Apple III off the market before 1984 is out.

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Small area networks on microcomputers

Corvus OmniNetCorvus Systems, makers of hard disk drives for the Apple II and other microcomputers, releases the Corvus OmniNet, the first local area networking hardware/software bundle aimed at small businesses, schools, and even high-end home users. Since Corvus’ 5 and 10 megabyte hard disk drives for the Apple II had initial price tags in the $5,000 range, Corvus also created the OmniNet hub to allow small businesses and schools to maximize that investment by allowing multiple computers to access it. Forseeing the future of the business market, Corvus also makes OmniNet cards for the IBM PC. Though Ethernet is already in use at this time, its expensive hardware and installation is generally limited to large business customers.

IBM Personal Computer

IBM PCIBM Model 5150, developed under the code name “Chess” but better known as the IBM Personal Computer, is released, including the original PC edition of Microsoft’s MS-DOS. This not only marks the ascendency of Microsoft as a maker of operating systems, but a sudden shift away from a multitude of other computer platforms (especially the Apple II series) toward the IBM PC. Within a year, the first IBM PC-compatible machine will arrive on the market, but while that begins to cost IBM its hardware market share, it popularizes the Intel-8088-based architecture and makes it the standard of the computer industry.

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AquariusTrying to join the ranks of game companies producing home computers, Mattel Electronics licenses a low-end computer from a Hong Kong manufacturer and releases it in the United States as the Aquarius home computer. The age of Aquarius is short-lived, however, as Mattel is incurring serious losses from slowing Intellivision sales, and the Aquarius computer quickly proves to be underpowered next to even its cheapest competitors (the Mattel programmers tasked with creating games and software for it refer to it as the “system for the ’70s”).

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This is the ending of the age of Aquarius

AquariusHaving taken heavy losses and criticism from both the public and the computing press for launching an underpowered machine into the burgeoning personal computer market, Mattel Electronics hurriedly sells off its interest in the Aquarius Computer, handing all rights in the machine back to its UK-based originator, Radofin Electronics. The age of Aquarius has lasted less than a year, but has cost Mattel Electronics dearly.

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Apple Macintosh

MacintoshApple Computer releases a new home and business computer, the Macintosh, with a sharp black & white display and an eye-grabbing, object-oriented graphical user interface. Early software includes the what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) word processor MacWrite and the graphics program MacPaint, the combination of which jumpstarts an entire new industry, “desktop publishing” – typesetting via computer instead of manual layout. This decisive step away from the now-seven-year-old Apple II architecture is Apple’s answer to the IBM PC.

Apple IIc

Apple IIcNot quite ready to bring the Apple II line to an end, Apple Computer launches the Apple IIc, a smaller form-factor enhanced Apple IIe specifically designed for portability (an optional LCD monitor – with no backlighting – is also made available on this date). Introduced alongside the IIc is a new Apple operating system, ProDOS, meant to mimic some of the object-oriented features of the Macintosh user interface, as well as an Apple II mouse. Perhaps not surprisingly, Apple also chooses to quietly discontinue support for the Apple III on this date as well.

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The first .com

InterwebsMassachusetts computer manufacturer Symbolics Inc., a maker of LISP-based computers with customers ranging from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to movie studios, registers the first .com internet domain name, Ironically, despite being further ahead of the internet curve than nearly any other commercial entity, Symbolics struggles to last into the 1990s; both the company’s assets and its domain name will be sold off in the 21st century.