1401: The first mass produced Computer &
Computer Architeture History
Roque E.de Campos – ex – IBM’er firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a pointer and an introductory discussion to fill out the missing link from 1975 to 2016 (as a complement to the 1975 midia about Computer Genesis, which can be seen at youtube) and will lead the reader to several others discussions, but from the stand point of computers, the following articles are the significant ones:
(See also The missing link: von Neumann the father of the Modern Computer)
(See also The missing link: 1975 – 2016 Main Frames)
(See also: The Missing Link 1975 2016 Personal Computers)
(See also: The Missing Link 1975 2016 Home Brew Computers and Games)
(See also: Internet)
I worked 22 years at IBM, Brazil, from 1970 to 1993, some 15 as product engineer, most of them supporting mainframes, from which I helped to develop diagnostics for the IBM 4341, at the IBM Endicott lab, USA, where I worked a number of years.
From my experience I learned what was needed to know to get involved professionally in the development and fabrication of main frames and needless to say, one of my jobs was to teach classes to newcomers to explain what it was all about. The introduction to these classes can be seen at the Youtube. There is a missing link to make it adequate to today’s perspective (2016). The information contained in the 1975 midia does not have to be updated, because it is still the same, but it has to be consolidated with information explaining how that gave birth to the modern personal desktop computers, laptops and tablets and obviously why and how this is or was instrumental to the existence of networks, which have led to the Internet in the early 1990’s. As technology enabled the creation of even smaller computers including laptops and hand-held devices, such as smart phones, the computer has gone full circle to make machines which were giant in the past, available and operable by the palm of the hand. Unbelievable as it may seem, inside your smart phone, there is a computer build around the same ideas John Von Neumann devised and a machine (i.e. your smart phone) as powerful as the big machines then and which were put forth as it is explained in that 1975 midia. This missing link is discussed somewhere else.
I never quite succeeded in this teaching job, leaving a lot to be desired, specially, because to me, the whole thing seemed like a puzzle from which I had a lot of pieces which fitted together partially and there was always a feeling that was something missing to recreate the whole figure which would make sense to a newcomer or someone who had never got involved with computers, be it mainframes or whatever, because, deep inside of them, they work under the same basic principles, varying only its architecture. Windows is an architecture, 360 and 370 are another, IBM main frames share to this day (2016) the same architecture, or compatible at least and it never occurred to me that the picture would become clear under a normal human perception under this angle. This happened to me watching the saga of the creation of the 1401, specially the testimony of its architect, Frank Underwood in the bellow speech which was done recently in 2010 when the original team gathered together to rebuild a 1401 for the Computer History Museum.
Stricken by what seemed to me the glueing factor to put together the puzzle pieces to understand what computers are all about, I came across a presentation on the saga of the creation of the 1401 IBM Computer, which is considered the Ford Model T of Computers.
Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, he invented the automobile industry. He devised means to make a car a minute or so and to make it accessible to a large number of people.
Large number for automobiles meant that the Model T was produced up to almost twenty million units whereas the 1401 reached some fifteen thousand, which, proportionally, makes the 1401 its equivalent. According to Datamation, the 1401 represented 81.2% of the computer market in 1961. Because of that, it paved the way (and the cost…) for the creation of the IBM 360 family which was indeed the massification of computers to whom it may concern. Needless to say, the 360 was succeeded by the 370 family and its architecture created a standard for mainframes which later would need the assistance of computing power itself to function and to repair. This “smaller” computing power created the condition to the Personal Computer to come of age. The third-party contracted to develop this “smaller” computing power to assist main frames was led by Bill Gates, which saw other possibilities to this piece of hardware. IBM didn’t show interest in that and Bill Gates went on, creating a popular and accessible machine, better yet, its operating system, which would accommodate the now popular Windows, which became synonymous with personal computing massification, having sold in all of its versions over half a million copies from the one billion mark that the personal computer have reached.
Today, 2016, we are seeing the personal computer being incorporated to the smart phone on a lot of its functions and the apearence of hand-held devices which also do the same, such as tablets, Ipads and the like.The automobile is also on the verge to be connected with the smart phone and some funcions, such as the GPS and the possibility to hear music fit to your tastes, to mention just two, are a good example of things to come. To understand what I mean, just take a look to what happened to your desk. It can be said that the same is happening to anything technologically likely to make use of computer facilities, such as:
What changes in all these devices is the architecture, which is the focus of what will be discussed here, and it is the glueing factor that joints all the pieces of the puzzle which it is understanding computers. In the testimony that follows, it becomes completely apparent. I beg excuses to the reader how I am approaching that, because Fran Underwood had a full understanding of what John Von Neumann had in mind, added to the fact since he was not a scientist, but a person firmly with his feet on the ground, he connected the pieces to figure out the 1401 and make computers to be available to the industry. His testimony appears twice in the Internet, as it is shown here, and I compare them with the one in 2010 when the team gathered together for the rebuilding of the 1401 for the Computer Museum. I decide to publish booth and wrap them up and in doing so, it is possible to branch out to the information the is giving us and I beg once again to the reader to take the time it takes to figure what he is saying, because he is a Von Neumann level to us, average human beings…I say that, because at any sake, Von Neumann is unreadable…
Fran Underwood (Francis O.) (First Version)
Born: Omaha, Neb. 06/16/1926
I come from a line of technical people. My grandfather was a watchmaker and an engraver. My father was a draftsman, architect, Mechanical Engineer and teacher. Unfortunately, he died when I was about four years old. I lost a potential mentor, so I had to wend my way without his guidance.
I entered a technically oriented high school in Binghamton, NY and was trained as a toolmaker, hopefully to become a toolmaker for IBM. After graduation, I enrolled in the Navy V-5 program which consisted of one year of college and then flight school. After the one year of college, the navy decided that they were not losing pilots at the expected rate, so I had a chance to stay and transfer to Cornell University. My major was Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Aeronautical Engineering. The war ended after I only had a year and a half at Cornell. I was discharged, then. I tell you of this background to illustrate how inappropriate my schooling was for the work that I was to do later.
My first job, after leaving the Service, was as a Tool Designer, designing tools on contract for IBM. These tools were mostly Drill jigs, Milling fixtures, punch –and- die sets for the IBM 407 Printer. This job only paid 75 cent per hour so I applied for a job at IBM. Instead of a job as a Tool Engineer, they offered me a job as a Customer Engineer to be trained in a special new course they wanted to try. So, ten guys were hired and the training course consisted of spending at least one full year on the production line learning how to assemble every product and to do the final testing. We had to complete at least five examples of each type.
This kind of experience was quite foreign to me and I had considerable trouble trying to figure out what this was all about. Then one day, on the final test line for the 405 my teacher made some casual remark and suddenly every thing fell in to place! I had an epiphany! I had no more trouble with circuits or Accounting practises.
The class used to gather in a classroom with other student CEs and sing “Ever Onward, IBM” and “Hail to Thomas J, Watson, Leader of the IBM”. Really!
I remember one day at one of those meetings when a new Electronic Calculator was demonstrated to us. I was overwhelmed. I asked “where are you ever going to find people to service such a device?’ The answer was that we were going to do it! Remember, I had absolutely no experience or knowledge of Electronics and I assumed that no one else had, either. The type number of this Calculator was 604 and it had about 2000 tubes.
After graduation, I was sent to Washington DC. I was reasonably happy there, except that I was only making $ 1. 75 an hour. I spent my spare time designing two new product proposals: a Calculating Key punch and an Interpreter using wheels for printing. I took these designs to my CE manager and asked for an interview with Engineering. He resisted, and came up with lots of excuses about why I wouldn’t get an Engineering job. I persisted and finally got the interview. I was immediately offered $475 per month. My manager couldn’t believe it. I think that was more than he made.
My first assignment was to design a modification for the 405 to handle Extended Capacity Cards (ECC). These cards were to use 6-bit binary coding, two characters per column and I think Poughkeepsie was working on keypunches and printers. That project didn’t last too long. I don’t remember why. My manager at that time was a former CE (in Russia!) and was the designer of relay-implemented large Calculators.
He designed circuits to add, subtract, multiply and divide in decimal (not binary). These circuits involved thousands of relays and he would draw the circuit diagrams, including every contact, in ink with three little circles for every contact point. While I worked for him, I was fortunate to be a student in the first class given in IBM in mathematical circuit logic design. I showed my manager what I was learning and he was amazed. He had no idea that there could be a mathematical approach to logical circuit design.
When the course ended, The Education manager (Perry Perrone) asked me to teach an Engineering Training Program to teach new engineering hires how to be IBM engineers.
Frankly, I was petrified, and begged off. I had no teaching experience, and would freeze up if I ever had to speak to a group of people. He persisted, and it turned out to be easy. I even taught the 604 principles and circuits. For this, I had to plan each lesson and learn the content the night before class. I think that during that time, I was working on the design of a new Interpreter, the 519. I designed the Zone unit for the print mechanism.
After that I volunteered to teach the Circuit design course and then a Computer Architecture course. At some time about then, I suppose the WWAM project was initiated overseas, but I was not part of this effort. I was working in the Advanced Systems Development Department on unrelated special systems.
At this point, you should probably take a detour and read my Oral History of 1968 to find out the particulars of the 1401 development. I should probably mention that I was very naïve about large corporate business, totally unaware of the political aspects of product development. Looking back, there must have been a lot of politics at play in the WWAM program. For me, it was like being in a candy store. I could just do my thing, creating and innovating with little direction and interference. I had become very proficient in designing systems, turning out dozens of data flow diagrams for potential products. In this regard, I was largely self-taught. This was unusual work for a tool engineer.
There still a lot of things I didn’t know, so when I encountered a puzzling situation, I would ‘make up stuff’, otherwise known as inventing, creating and innovating!
When the 1401 was announced and my part was over, I was fortunate to be transferred to San Jose to work on Process Controllers. The result was the 1800. During this program, I had a chance to consult with Arnold Spielberg, the father of Steven Spielberg. I believe he was a Planner.
Second Version, more detailed and with more practical and meaningful information
Fran Underwood, May, 2008
Bio: Fran Underwood (Francis O.)
Born: Omaha, Neb. 06/16/1926
Father was an Engineer and Architect, worked for Union Pacific Railroad. Mother was a registered nurse. Father died in 1930 from gangrene induced by burst appendix. No cure at that time. I lost a potent Mentor. Raised by Grandparents in Binghamton, NY. Mother received RN in New York, Master Degree in Public Health Syracuse.
In those days, we hadn’t heard the word ‘technology’. Leading edge stuff of the day was the radio, the Automobile, Steam Locomotives and Telephone. We used to play in the streets; “tag”, “hide and go seek”,”kick the can”, “Ring-a-levio”, until it was bedtime. No thoughts of predators. We walked to school in all kinds of weather, no other way to get there. Binghamton was one of the “triple cities’, the other two were Johnson City and Endicott, home of IBM.
When it was time to enter High School in Binghamton, I was offered a chance to take a 3-year Technical Course (Mechanical) designed to prepare one for a job as a Toolmaker at IBM. I was taught drafting, operating manufacturing machinery for tool makes , sheet metal, math/physics engineering Very prestigious. There were only 22 accepted out of 2000 applicants. Graduates would be offered a job to IBM. However, WWII occurred so after High school I joined the Naval Air Corps in 1944. I was sent to college instead of going to Flight school, where I majored in Mechanical Engineering with a Minor in Aeronautical Engineering.
The War ended before I could have finished the degree program but would have had to stay enlisted for four years of sea duty. So upon returning home in 1947, I was able to land a job as a Tool Designer at the firm Modern Design & Engineering, designing tools on contract for IBM, Scintilla Magneto, Link Aviation, and others. These tools were mostly Drill jigs, Milling fixtures, punch and die sets for the IBM 407 Printer. This job only paid 75 cents per hour so I applied for a job at IBM. Instead of a job as a Tool Engineer, they offered me a job as a Customer Engineer to be trained in a special new course they wanted to try.
So, in 1948 I joined IBM Endicott. Ten of us were enlisted into training course spending at least one full year on the production line, each of us individually learning how to assemble every product in the GPD line (026, 031, 035, 511, 405, 077, 513, banking machines) and to do the final testing. We had to complete at least five examples of each type. It was a lot of fun except the wiring diagrams were difficult to interpret until one day on final 402 testing on 402, the final tester made a simple comment, perhaps on how they were used, and it all became clear.
This kind of experience was quite foreign to me and I had considerable trouble trying to figure out how the machine was being used. Then one day, on the final test line for the 405 my teacher made some casual remark and suddenly every thing fell in to place and I had no more trouble.
The class used to gather in a classroom with student CEs and sing “Ever Onward, IBM” and “Hail to Thomas J, Watson, Leader of the IBM”. Really!
I remember one day at one of those meetings when a new Electronic Calculator, the 604 with about 2000 tubes, was demonstrated to us. I was overwhelmed. I asked “where are you ever going to find people to service such a device?” The answer was that we were going to do it! Remember, I had absolutely no experience or knowledge of electronics and I assumed that no one else had, either.
After completion of the CE training in mid 1949, I was sent to Washington DC. I was reasonably happy there, except that I was only making $1.75 an hour. I spent my spare time designing two new product proposals of mine: a Calculating Key punch with relays (add/subtract/divide) and a card interpreter using wheels for printing. I took these designs to my CE manager and asked for an interview with engineering. He resisted, and came up with lots of excuses about why I wouldn’t get an engineering job. I persisted and finally got the interview. I was immediately offered $475 per month, and joined Endicott product development in 1951. My manager couldn’t believe it (and later transferred to the 1401 program).
My first assignment, working for Ben Durfee, a former CE in Russia, to design a modification for the 405 to handle Extended Capacity Cards (ECC). These cards were to use 6-bit binary coding, two characters per column and I think Poughkeepsie was working on keypunches and printers. That project didn’t last too long. I don’t remember why.
Ben had designed relay circuits for the huge sequential calculator (SSEC) computer to add, subtract, multiply and divide in decimal. These circuits involved thousands of relays and he would draw the circuit diagrams with a drop compass, including every contact, in ink with three little circles for every contact point. While I worked for him, I was fortunate to be a student in the first class given in IBM in Boolean algebra for circuit logic design, by one of Claude Shannon’s student Fred Foss. I showed my manager what I was learning and he was amazed.
When the course ended, the Director of Engineering Education, Perry Perrone, asked me to teach an engineering training class for new engineering hires on how to be IBM engineers. Frankly, I was petrified, and begged off. I had no teaching experience, and would freeze up if I ever had to speak to a group of people. But after the first class, I was cured! During this time, I was also asked to teach an IBM 604 Calculator principals and circuits course. For this, I had to plan each lesson and learn the content the night before class. During that time, I was working on the design of a new Interpreter, the 519. I designed the Zone unit for the print mechanism.
I had to teach the “Switching Circuits for Engineers” class without the aid of a textbook, as there were none at that time. The class included relay and vacuum-tube logic circuit design and accounting machine operation (electrical, mechanical, operations.) One of the students who really liked the class, Mitchel Marcus, did so well that when I went on to do other engineering work, he took over the course. Transistors eventually superseded relays and vacuum tubes and this led Mitch to upgrade the course. As a result of this work, he wrote three editions of his book “Switching Circuits for Engineers” in the early 60’s and 70’s, a standard textbook for years and sold countless copies in 37 nations. [Mitch, an expert in probability and statistics, also corrected an age-old solution to a probably problem in Martin Gardner’s “Colossal Book of Mathematics”]
With a strong desire to design an advanced, cutting-edge system using future technology to expand the frontiers accounting machines, I was hired into Endicott’s Advanced Systems Development Division (ASDD) in 1956. Mitch and I found ourselves working side-by-side there.
For my first project in ASDD, I was the lead architect on VIDOR (Video Document Reader), drawing all the system diagrams. VIDOR was ….. plugboard controlled.
Next I worked on the Transistorized Accounting Machine (TAM), doing flow circuit diagrams.
During this time, I became acquainted with two brilliant mathematicians in ASDD, Nelson and Armstrong, from whom Mitch and I learned a lot of esoteric mathematics.
Von Neumann came as a consultant to answer questions, deep mathematical problems, he would sit back think he was sleeping, spring up and this is the way it is. Working on system sorting records on tapes (patent) 4 or 8 ASDD two mathematicians scheme for sorting tape records
Attended meetings in Poughkeepsie to discuss the WWAM.
Ralph Mork appointed to head of accounting machines, recruited me first to come up with a new design for an accounting machine. had little contact with him, he would invent scenarios about what was going on – but acted as wall to allow me to do my own thing. Looked at WWAM, terrible expense of plugboards, cost of interface electronics. WWAM folks were nitpicking on this transistor vs this one. Idea for word marks came from Ed Grenchus working on some kind of deadend project. My objective was to make a stored program computer that was mine, single-minded. Val Adams, designed 602A San Jose
After that I was asked by Perry to teach the Circuit design course and then a Computer Architecture course, including princpals, binary addressing, opcodes. At some time about then, I suppose the WWAM project was initiated overseas, but I was not part of this effort. I was working in the Advanced Systems Development Department on unrelated special systems. [WHICH ONES? MENTION MTing w/ vonNeumann]
IBM maintained two floors in the Beckman Towers in NYC to house students of the Systems Engineering Course. The school was held in a building directly across the street from the UN building. I was fortunate to be able to attend this 3-months course twice. The last time, to fulfill a requirement for a “term paper”, I wrote and demonstrated a program which turned the 1401 into a Turing machine. The printer provided a graphic display of the tape. Fascinating to watch.
When Branscomb/Ingram/xx. Bob Evans was the quintessential manager. He held weekly meetings with about 25 people, and he would always come prepared with about 100-150 items on his agenda. He demanded answers and action from everybody. Impressive to watch.
You ask me how I selected variable length instructions and variable word length. Back then, when the cost of memory was really significant, the choice was obvious. Today, the cost of memory is zilch, and it is hard to imagine the pressure to use as little as possible, back then. I was not inspired by WWAM or the 704 or anything else It was so obvious. I may have studied the plugboard concept and tried a design, but subsequently decided that this was too costly and very limited in function. The market we were after was Alphanumeric oriented. Binary was an exotic, foreign concept to these people Again, obvious choice. However, if high-level languages and compilers were as common then as now, we might have considered Binary.
You can read my interview of 1968 to find out the particulars of the 1401 development. I should probably mention that I was very naïve about large corporate business, totally unaware of the political aspects of product development. Looking back, there must have been a lot of politics at play in the WWAM program. For me, it was like being in a candy store. I could just do my thing, creating and innovating with little direction and interference.
I should have said that I was not management material. I had no training whatsoever, in spite of the fact that management training was an absolute requirement. Somebody made a mistake and gave me the management position, supposedly as some kind of reward, recognition or promotion.
When the 1401 was announced and my part was over, I was fortunate to be transferred to San Jose to work on Process controllers. The result was the 1800. During this program, I had a chance to work with Arnold Spielberg, the father of Steven Spielberg.
Re: 1800. Arnold Spielberg was not an Engineer on the program. I think he worked in Marketing or some such. I consulted with him. The Engineer before I came to San Jose was Chuck Propster. He was very knowledgeable and laid considerable groundwork before I got there.
A little side note here: When I was in Endicott, IBM provided certain special features for some machines. Some of these were devices that mounted in 19-inch relay racks and could provide some kind of low-performance process control. One of these boxes was about four inches high, with a switch and a light on the front panel, and with a three-wire cable to a plug on the back. This unit was sold by IBM for $2500! This is an example of IBM’s pricing formula which was so devastating to the development of Personal Computers. After the 1800, I worked in ASDD in the Los Gatos lab developing Educational Systems. This is where Bob Treseder and I invented the floppy disk. We knew nothing of Sony’s prior effort. We incorporated it into an Audio/visual unit that would sit on a student’s desk.
The disk had a capacity of 32K bytes and was loaded with a program to execute APL, a programming language conceived by Ken Iverson. It was quite popular at that time. In a way, it looked and performed like a PC but with a Selectric typewriter for key entry and printed display. The performance was abysmal and the cost was high, but we had the glimmer of an idea and wanted to pursue it further. However, Educational Systems had another project that usurped our funding. Did I mention that Alan Shugart was the manager of the program? IBM had taken our floppy disk drive idea and given it to the Disk drive Development department. There, the idea of enclosing the tape platter in a paper envelope was born. When this was being readied for production, apparently somebody in management realized that it could be used as a very effective I/O device, cheap, portable and fast, and this could spell doom for IBMs multi-billion dollar card business. The program was killed, and a letter was sent to all that this device was never to be connected to any IBM product. Imagine that!
Alan Shugart, seeing a great opportunity, left IBM, probably with a good deal of the documentation, and started Shugart Associates. I don’t believe that IBM thought it was worthwhile to patent this device, so they didn’t.
Another aside: Sometime, around 1960, or maybe later, IBM had developed a new, powerful disk drive called “Merlin”. One night, when the one and only model was left unguarded, outside of a loading gate, it disappeared, along with all the documentation. IBM knew who the 12 guys were. (Called the “dirty dozen), and tried to sue. IBM lost the case because of some technical error and because IBM could not show that they had made any attempt to safeguard the Drive. The “dirty dozen” formed a large and very successful disk drive company. This is a widely known story. As a consequence, IBM issued another edict: from that point on, one had to have a “need-to-know” clearance before you could find out what the guy in the next office was doing. Needless to say, this slowed everything down and probably increased costs.
About 1969, I was approached by a small outside startup and offered the job as V.P. of Engineering. I was naïve and vulnerable, and so I quit IBM and joined this firm, IOTRON, in 1970. The main business was Back Panel wiring. We had two Gardner-Denvers, run by two very competent young ladies. Unfortunately there was no way that these two girls could produce enough income to support the high salaries of the five principles. This is an interesting story on how not to do business, but I won’t go into more details here. The business failed after two years, so I had to ask IBM for my job back.
When I came back, I was given the job of Technical Liaison on the big Laser Printer development program (3800). After that task was over, I was transferred to Rochester MN to work on a development program, ultimately known as “Triple Play” This was somewhat like a crude PC, and was finally announced. I don’t think it was a particularly successful product, but I lost track of it when the program was transferred to Austin TX.
I then worked on a Communications Product. I didn’t understand my function here at all well and consequently became dissatisfied with the position. In 1979, I was asked to transfer to Austin. That didn’t appeal to me, and since I had felt I had enough after 32 years with Big Blue, I decided that it was time to retire. I moved to Auburn CA and started my own Engineering consulting business. All during my IBM career, I keep busy on the side doing Tool design and Machine design, for friends who had machine shops and small manufacturing businesses, so I was intimately familiar with the world of links and levers and nuts and bolts and screws and cams and kinematics, etc. So, I was well prepared to design specialized mechanisms. One of my clients built scrap metal recovery plants. I did the design for about 15 plants that were installed around the world.
When this client moved his facilities to Nevada for tax relief, I found another client who was building simple Disk drive testers. I designed some more sophisticated products for him and wrote a couple of million lines of machine code to operate them.
Then, in 1988 I saw a want ad for a structural designer. I couldn’t really call myself one, but I was curious, so I answered the ad. I turns out that the company, Cable Transport Engineering Company (CTEC) designed and built Ski lifts. In early 1990, they merged with a European Company, and then merged again with an Austrian firm, Doppelmyer, the new name being Dopplemyer CTEC.
The owner had previously tried several so-called Engineers fresh out of college with no previous experience. None of them were acceptable, so he thought he would try me (at age 62, ordinarily unemployable). Thank goodness he did. It turned out to be the best job experience I ever had, and he was the best manager I ever had. I spent 15 years there, designing Ski lifts that were installed all over the world. I designed terminals, sheave trains, tower tops and chairs for both regular and high-speed lifts, installed in CA, UT, NY, MN, Canada, Chile and Australia. I was working as the only Engineer at the manufacturing facility in Sacramento CA.
When it was decided to consolidate all functions in Salt Lake City UT, I decided to finally retire one last time. [WHEN?]
I must start with a disclaimer. I don’t remember, reliably, what happened over 50 years ago.
Much of what follows can only be described as logical deduction. For instance, I have been asked how I came to choose core memory over other technologies such as drum or disk. I recall that Ralph Mork was given the responsibility for the development of Electronic Accounting Machines. Before this, he was directing the IBM Military Division in Owego. As I recall, Russ Rowley was working for him, in charge of developing top-secret processors for the Military. Of course, I never knew what the machines were for, but I suspect they were for encryption. I believe that core memory was a central Technology. I also faintly recall talking to Russ. I assume that he had influenced me to give serious consideration to core memory. Once I saw the light, it seemed obvious that a drum would be a bad choice. The 650 had a drum. I observed that when one wanted to program an application, one had to consider timing of the drum. This was difficult and time-consuming. There were a set of instructions that had nothing to do with programming the application, but only to keep track of the drum revolutions and when and where data was under the read/write heads. In my view, this was not the way to go.
It is interesting to note that there was a serious effort to replace the 650 with a higher-performance 660. When the 1401 showed vast improvements over the 660, that program was dropped in a hurry. Again, I only have a blurry recollection of this.
As to the WWAM plug board: it may be difficult for people who have had no experience with plugboards to appreciate the problems we had with them. Not only were they bulky, but they were expensive, error-prone and difficult to wire and store. The customer had to have a wired control panel available for every application they needed to run, plus several empty spares for odd jobs, plus a very large inventory of various length plug wires. It wasn’t just the cost to the machine to have a plugboard (although it was considerable), it was also the cost to the customer to carry the expense of many plugboards. The logical structure of an accounting machine built around the limited functions available through the plugboard was reflected in the limitations of the machine. This was not so obvious until the 1401 came on the scene and showed a clearly better way.
I can no longer remember the sequence of events that occurred between 1950 and 1980. I do know that I taught the IBM Engineering course soon after I left the field and joined the Lab. I also taught other related courses while attending to my regular Engineering duties.
Fran Underwood to Robert Garner – March 2, 2011
I want to clarify a couple of points, although they have been discussed ad nausium. Consider how Unit Record went about setting up a plugboard: After gaining a good concept of the problem, they had to describe the process by writing down, in some form, the card columns to be read, which were to be printed by which type bars, which counters were to be employed, and how the results were to be presented, in print or punched cards.
I don’t recall that there was any formal method provided by IBM to help in this task. The final document was a wiring diagram of the plugboard used to accomplish the task. IBM supplied a pad of plugboard layouts that the customer used to draw the wiring. Note that this was all accomplished by hand (and trial-and-error) without any automation aids. This process and its associated expense had to be repeated for every task.
I envisioned my job to be one which eliminated the awkward, expensive plugboard, bring some order into the job description process, retain the basic concepts of UR processing (contiguous columns, alpha-numeric language, etc.) and some automation and some sorely-needed versatility. I accomplished all this with the help of the superb talent of highly-dedicated people.
Word Marks have received an interesting amount of comment along the way. I saw word marks as a nearly ideal way to cope with the problem of contiguous fields, and then set about building a case for them as far as cost was concerned. In retrospect, I did the right thing.
My first few months on the job ( as ‘Chief Architect’ 🙂 ) I had the simplistic view that the Machine Language was ‘Alphanumeric codes with decimal addressing and arithmetic’, and that was all that was necessary. But then I came to realize that there was very great potential in high-level languages with their assemblers and compilers. I take no credit for their part in the success of the 1401.
Another comment: Re: speed. Unit record machines were big, heavy and slow (comparatively). They all worked on a ‘machine cycle’ geared to the speed with which cards could be read and lines could be printed. The ‘active logic elements’ were electromechanical relays with operating times in the order of 10-20 milliseconds. At these speeds, it was natural that data flow in parallel if work was to be accomplished in reasonable time. This required many duplicated circuits. With the advent of electronics (particularly Transistors), the operation time of the logic elements increased one-thousand fold (10-20 microseconds). With this blazing speed available, we could now eliminate those costly duplicate circuits by processing data in a serial-by-character fashion, thus using one circuit repeatedly. Remember, we were still tied to the limiting cyclic nature of input/output devices. Nanosecond logic would not have been a copacetic implementation at that time.
For whatever its worth….
Robert Garner and Fran Underwood March 4, 2011
e-mails between Fran Underwood and Robert Garner
THANK YOU for your write-up describing your thoughts behind your design of the 1401! This is invaluable (esp for us folks who never lived in UR land and barely comprehend it now.) I’m cc’ing/sharing your thoughts with a few other folks from the era to invite any additional thoughts or comments they might have.
I envisioned my job to be one which eliminated the awkward, expensive plugboard, bring some order into the job description process, retain the basic concepts of UR processing (contiguous columns, alpha-numeric language, etc.) and some automation and some sorely-needed versatility.
Do you recall if your “control panels are bad” mind-set had been formulated while you were in ASDD?
As I have said before, you had to be there to appreciate the level of technology and the mind-set in order to understand the environment. There was no general acknowledgement that ‘control panels are bad’. Lots of people didn’t like them; they even hated them. Some didn’t even like punch-cards! But, that was the way that it had always been done, and no alternative was offered! What opened my mind was the inordinate cost of control panel implementation in WWAM. I immediately saw a way out: eliminate control panels! The rest is history.
I assume your predisposition toward stored program computers was a much larger motivator than say the discovery (by you and/or Ralph Mork) that the WWAM’s transistor interface to its control panel was too costly (about a third of the cost of its solid-state electronics, even though the WWAM already had nicely designed efficient byte-serial and memory-to-memory data paths)? It strikes me that the observation that the WWAM’s interface to its control panel was too expensive was a mainly an expedient fact that no one could really argue with (i.e., it put a nail in the coffin of plug boards for the “transistor age,” avoiding a religious fight over their efficacy?)
I saw word marks as a nearly ideal way to cope with the problem of contiguous fields, and then set about building a case for them as far as cost was concerned. In retrospect, I did the right thing.
I agree. Even though you may not have realized it at the time, the arguments that word marks egregiously consumed 1/8 of memory quickly became irrelevant, given that software itself, try as programmers might (or not ;-), became much more “inefficient” (as programs grew in size, compiler inefficiency came into play, etc.). Also, I’ve noticed that entire planes in the core stack in the main frame are used for the 1401 card buffers and the 1403 print buffers, “wasting” many more core locations in a 2K or 4K configuration.
Do you recall how you defended your use of word marks at the time??
The ‘active logic elements’ were electomechanical relays with operating times in the order of 10-20 milliseconds. At these speeds, it was natural that data flow in parallel if work was to be accomplished in reasonable time. This required many duplicated circuits.
Thanks for this natural insight. Although it stares you in the face (i.e., many parallel plug wires, and an article I should forward to you where a last hold out argued that control panels were better than stored program machines – there are skeptics for every paradigm change ;-), I hadn’t thought of UR machines as parallel processing entities. I assume the “duplicated circuits” were mainly counters (and registers)? A silly question: What other circuits were naturally duplicated? Certainly for multiplication and division one needed a 603/604.
Other duplicated circuits were ” class selectors’, ‘field selectors’, etc. These consisted of large bank of relays that had multiple transfer points. all of which were brought out to the plugboard. There were no such things called ‘registers’. I’m talking about Accounting machines, here: 402, 403, 405, 407.
For whatever its worth….
A lot, thanks!
Charles Branscomd [1401 Project Manager] to Robert Garner – March 6, 2011
One thing that hasn’t been mentioned about plugboards – for each application (payroll, billing, inventory control, etc.) you need at least three plugboards – one each for the reproducer, the collator, and the accounting machine. The reproducer plugboard is rather simple but those for the collator and accounting machine can range from fairly simple to very complex. I don’t know whether Fran’s experience is similar to mine but many of the most complex plugboards I wired was for the collator. The interpreter also requires a simple plugboard when you want to print information in the card onto the face of the card.
I was a fan of word marks from the time of my first exposure to them because of their simplicity and efficiency. But we did have some people who felt strongly that field length designation should not be contained in the data fields. I’m sure the San Jose people who proposed a 305 follow-on instead of the 1401 made this point since the 305 designated field length as part of the instruction. Fortunately this never became a big issue, partly because a member of HQS. staff – a Mr. Macpherson – was a very strong supporter of word marks. I don’t know how much interaction Fran had with Macpherson (I don’t remember his first name).
Fred Brooks [famed author of Mythical Man Month] expands:
John MacPherson was an IBM vp in various engineering and tech roles. A wonderfully warm and wise man, not a very aggressive manager.
I quite agree with Chuck on the plugboards, especially that of the 077 collator, and the 402 & 407 accounting machines. The 602A multiplier was a beast, too, if I remember right.
Sequence with emphasis in the control panel, which will command the architecture
1890 Hollerith Tabulator – Hard wired to do one and only job: The census and in 1906 the Hollerith type II were the control board allowed some programming. It was followed in 1916 by the 3 S with a removable panel
IBM version was the 405 in 1934 which was in use till 1948 when it was followed by the 407 in 1949. Remember, they ran under control panel
Bear in mind that we are talking entry-level, or low-end and it was thought then that there was no alternative to control panel, once that stored program machines such as the hi end would have a cost incompatible with its market share. The IBM machines from late forties to mid fifties were thhe following:
1948 IBM 604
The 650, although a Stored Program Machine, first mass producd (2500 in total) didn’t replace the Uni Record Established Method. UNIVAC created the first commercial computer in 1951(including tape drives) and IBM’s rsponse was the 702 in 1953, to be withdrawn a year later and superseeded by the 705 in In 1954. The IBM 705 was very large and very expensive, but unafordable to the industry. The 705 wuild be inspirational to the 1401. In 1956 RAMAC was created. Too slow and disk storage, to that purpose, was not the thing. It used 50 disc records to store 5 MB. It cost US$10 000,00 dollars for each megabykte! A justibiable price at that time. None either repalced Uni Record.
Put in simple terms, Charles “Chuck” Branscomb, 1BM 1401 Program Manager from 1957 to 1960, expresses IBM’s feeling, when he says, when attending a meeting in France about the impact of the Gamma 3, that the Sputinik sounded “bip, bip, bip” around the world and when over the USA it sounded “ha, ha, ha”, simply because, as the former director of the BULL company, Pierre Letort, described in the magazine “Arts et Manufactures”, No. 22, dated June 1953, the operation of the GAMMA 3:
“In its current configuration, the computer acts as an extension unit for the punched card machine it is connected to. The cards are read in the reader station which transmits data to the computer.
The computer in turn performs all necessary calculations and transmits the results back to the punched card machine which will print or punch these values. Regardless of the task, the computer is so fast that there is no visible delay caused by the calculations”.
Fortunately for IBM and unfortunately for the French, three things held IBM fo follow the steps of many sucessfull companies due to unforeseen technology changes, i.e., disapear: First, their machine relied on a dying technology, tubes, second, its architeture revolved around control panels, third, IBM had Frank Underwood, that was about to connect John Von Neumann’s ideas about stored program machines to the real world, where things, to exist, have to have connection with their use and their cost, and with a reliability, availability and serviceability within an expected level of confidence. And I cannot think of a better way to explain Ford Model T than that… Automobiles would not exist, or exist as an oddity and exception if they continued to share, as they did before Henry Ford,with the machines first built around Von Neumann concepts. To see what I mean, you could take a look to all the pionering machines, be it Aiken’s Mark I, or Presper Eckert and John Machly ENIAC, etc, and the like, and perhaps it can be better understood looking at the 700 family and how many machines were produced in total, rental costs and reliability, availability and serviceability:
It rented for about $16,000 per month. In all, 19 units were manufactured, most of them for US national laboratories, the US Weather Bureau, aircraft manufacturers, etc, and big companies like GE. The first unit was installed in 1952 at IBM Headquarters in New York City, replacing the SSEC. The 701 came in eleven pieces:
Two electrostatic storage units held 72 cathode-ray tubes (CRTs), sufficient to provide 2048 36-bit words.
Three power supply and distribution units.
The electronic analytical and control unit (CPU).
Plus card punches, readers, and recorders, a printer, a magnetic tape unit (the world’s first), and a drum.
THE PICTURE – How it was forecast