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How the IBM 1403 Printer Hammered Out 1,100 Lines Per Minute

It took tiny electromagnetic hammers to keep up with new data-processing systems

2 min read
Woman demonstrating the IBM 1460
Photo: Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images

Introduced in October 1959, IBM’s 1401 data-processing system was one of the first transistorized computers ever sold commercially. The 1401 marked the transition from wiring panels and punch cards to stored programs and magnetic tape drives, and it offered performance and versatility at a price that even small businesses could afford—about US $6,500 per month ($54,000 today). Systems with similar features were much larger and cost about six times as much, according to this IEEE Spectrum article, which recounts how a group of engineers rebuilt an IBM 1401. Within a month of its debut, IBM took 3,000 orders for the machine, which was more orders than there were computers in existence at the time. By 1965, nearly half the computers in the world were 1401s.

Video: Computer History Museum

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polaroid sx-70 camera, silver with brown leather, open on white surface
Thomas Backa

In one corner stood the defending champion, Texas Instruments. In the other stood the challenger, Fairchild Semiconductor. The referee, judge, promoter, and only spectator was Polaroid. In contention was the contract for the electronics of Polaroid’s secret project—a pioneering product introduced in 1972 as the SX-70, a camera eventually purchased by millions of people.

As the embodiment of truly automated instant photography, the SX-70 fulfilled a long-held dream of Edwin Land, founder of Polaroid Corp., Cambridge, Mass. Vital to this “point and shoot” capability was a new film—one that would develop while exposed to light and so eliminate the tear-away covers of previous Polaroid films. Also vital were sophisticated electronics to control all single lens reflex (SLR) camera functions, including flashbulb selection, exposure control, mirror positioning, start of print development, and ejection of print. These circuits were divided into three modules, one each for motor, exposure and logic, and flash control. At the final count, some 400 transistors were used.

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