Hulking computing engines of Toronto's yesteryear

Blogto's Derek Flack went spelunking in the Toronto Archives for photos of old computers in situ, from the days when installing a monsterscale computing engine was cause for bringing in the photographer for a bit of posterity. I remember my dad taking me to some computer rooms in this era, though his facial hair was far more glorious than this gentleman's.
As I've mentioned before, one of the best parts of digging around the Toronto Archives is the stuff you find that you were never looking for. I'd guess that at least a third of the ideas I've had for historical posts about the city have come via some serendipitous discovery or another. Today's installment is certainly fits this bill.

When I was putting together a post about what banks used to look like in Toronto, I happened to stumble upon some spectacular, Kubrick-esque shots of an unidentified computer room that got me wondering if there were any more like them in the City's digitized collection. As it turns out, there are — though not as many as I'd like.

Vintage computers and technology in Toronto (via Super Punch)


  1. I love pictures like this. I’ve worked in my share of computer labs and server rooms, but not even close to the era depicted in these photos. I’m always amazed (but not at all surprised) at how clean and clinical everthing appears.

    though his facial hair was far more glorious than this gentleman’s

    You can’t make a claim like this without some photographic evidence to back it up!

  2. Ah, I remember those days. A favorite memory is that the grad students had recognized that the dot matrix printers produced static on an AM radio that was set on the printer. So they did the obvious thing, they wrote a program to print something out, varying the print head activity so that the tone on the AM radio would vary in a manner to play a song. Love the creativity. 
    They also had a jaw droppingly creative program, that displayed Green triangles on a CRT that moved. Pressing certain keys rotated them and shot little green bullets at others. NEVER had I seen anything like it. Some of the faculty attacked the authors as being frivolous with valuable computer time. 
    The mainframe was a monster, occupied about a third of the floor it was on, in an air conditioned enclosure. Massive storage of 256K. I had a bit of a problem later transitioning to real world computing when I had to use a Wang computer with a more conventional 6k. Storage at that time was accomplished with little iron doughnuts that had two wires perpendicular to each other running through the center. They were temporarily magnetized by a current running in one of the wires. They could be read by a current running in another direction. And there were over a 1/4 of a million of these little buggers in the machine. Wow. I speculated that they were manufactured by little old ladies who had highly developed skills at threading needles. A full room of them gossiping as they did their core threading.Also, the turn around time (time from turning in your card stack to getting a print out) was down to about 10 minutes at 2-6 AM, so we would go for burgers and beer at 11 pm, then  get locked into the building at midnight for all-nighters, the most efficient way to debug your programs. 
    I think I just dated myself.

  3. back in the later 70’s i was on a road trip from Minnesota and dropped in on a buddy in TO who worked the night shift at IP Sharp. i got a look at the place from the “bridge” and while we were bs,ing about his job a printer typed up one letter Q..he said some guy was working on a big math problem and it took the computer 15 or 20 minutes to “think” and then print the Q,what ever it was or ment he had no idea.i wonder how long that would take now?

  4. Those bad boys took up a lot of space.  I worked at an IBM facility one summer and did a lot of running around, I worked for the accounting department and was bored out of my tree, but one thing I did get to see was the facilities main system room.  It was the size of a football field full of the system pictured above.  Was rather impressive.
    Now a days the rooms of the size are starting to be filled again but with huge clusters, though I don’t think they have refilled them totally.

  5. Look how cleen all those rooms are! The golden age is over – our ops bridge is a wash of crumpled paper, bags on desks, coats, half consumed books and other dissonant fixtures and detritus.
    Our data hall has a small flore-bound community of spent cable ties, velcrow strips, rubber SFP plugs (ok most of theese are my fault) and numerous screws. God forbid you should dare to lift a tile, we are pritty sure there is a dead electrician under there somwhere.

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