1950s Data storage ad

How Don Draper's firm might have saved client data. From OrangeCats' Flickr stream, referenced in "History of Modern Computing" (Ceruzzi).


    1. Those ones and zeroes are way too artistically selected to contain any actual information. They are like the pattern woven into a cloth.

    2. There’s no sequence of two or more 0s in there, so it feels much like a human’s attempt at generating randomness.

      I see a similar flaw in a lot of movies when there’s been a shootout and something is riddled with bullet holes – there’s never two holes anywhere near each other.  The night sky (in which we paradoxically see all kinds of patterns) is a much better illustration of what randomness looks like.

    3.  Character representations weren’t standardized in those days. You’d have to know which of several encodings was being used. Assuming of course, that it actually means something.

    4. “0101101110111011010101101110111011010101110101011010”

      “What?  My mother was a saint!  Get out!”

  1. I worked on a system with one of these in it!  It was an antique even then.  The thing was a nightmare: we had to constantly fiddle with shims to control the yaw, pitch and roll on the thing.  I believe it had about a 128 K capacity.  It was on a General Electric Mainframe – one of the ones with some odd number of bits per word (20 I think) and a mysterious, extra, invisible parity bit that you could see only if you did a “rotate word bits” operation.

  2. I saw one of these – or one like it – on a Univac 494 – back in the 70’s – it was still working – served by keypunch acolytes submitting batches of cards. Those were the days! Back then, it was we who served the machine.

    In the early 80’s. I met the inventor of rotating memories: Gerhard Dirks. His story was pretty amazing. At the end of WWII, he found himself on the East Side of Germany. So, he smuggled his family into Berlin. Then he wrote the designs for Drum and Disk drives on tiny bits of paper and smuggle himself over. He was heading up Flagship, which made a database engine card. A very secretive fellow. I was told his son was involved with the first hard drive for Apple.

  3. ERA predated the Mad Men by 10 years. They were quite the pioneers in computer research, although they mostly did weird one-off digital processors for the spooks. They are discussed in Seymour Cray’s biography.

    I only ever got to use one computer with a drum – an ancient PDP-8 at a cement factory in 1982. It was fed by a nitrogen bottle to keep the ubiquitous cement dust out of the drum package.

  4. May I suggest “Search at San Jose”, IBM’s wacky little informational video about their early data storage doohickey?

    A data storage device used exclusively for business data.  How quaint!

    1.  Looks like that was filmed at IBM’s Cottle Road campus – I grew up a few miles north of it and had no idea Khrushchev had visited it back in the 1950’s. It was set to be preserved as a landmark when it “mysteriously” burned down in 2008. Not sure how much is left…

  5. I worked with Univac 1100 series computers using Fastrand II drums through the 1970s.  It was a beautiful piece of engineering.  It had a high bandwidth and pizzas placed on top of its vents would stay at just the right temperature.  The one really big problem was that after running a few hundred hours you couldn’t shut them off.  If you did the bearings would seize up when the drum stopped.

  6. A guy I worked with years ago wrote code (assembly code, or sometimes machine language when he was getting down to the nitty-gritty) on a PDP-8 with drum storage.  He was very good at optimizing it so the data on the drum was just passing by the head when he had to read or write in to minimize latency.

    He could also look at page after page of ones and zeros on a core dump (before silicon based memory each bit was a separate ferrite core on an array of hair thin wires) and point to a bit and say “here’s the problem, this is a zero.  It should be a one.”

  7. I know I sometimes feel like I have a music box drum in my head.

    It makes the inside of my skull all itchy.

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