Vintage Business #12

I'm sure I've posted some of these photographs on Retrospace before; after a while I lose track of what I have and haven't posted.  Regardless, these images are worthy of a second look.  These are snapshots of the paleolithic era of the modern office - full of electronic dinosaurs, dwarfing the tiny office workers.  I'm sure these massive whirring behemoths could now fit inside your back pocket; but back then, they were state of the art.

It's interesting to note that the miniaturization of technology was largely unpredicted.  Most imagined highly evolved computers such as H.A.L., but no one could have predicted that H.A.L. would one day fit in your purse.  Those of you that never got to experience a room full of these electronic leviathans will never, perhaps, comprehend the change.  It wasn't just size, it was noise - these suckers were loud.

Now, I'm nowere near an expert on these old magnetic tape storage systems, and so I'm relying on some of you readers to point out what we're looking at. I'd be very interested to know what some of this instrumentation was used for, and any other tidbits you could share.

For those of you not so much interested in the vintage tech, I think you'll still enjoy the decor and overall "vibe" of these office spaces. 

I can't help but wonder at the cost of this equipment.  Obviously, it was highly expensive and not common in most offices.  I'm guessing my phone has more storage capacity than that big rig.

It's no wonder the personal computer was so revolutionary.  No need for a forklift or full time staff of caretakers; you suddenly had UNIVAC in your living room.

Any of you out there ever work with these big-ass magnetic tapes? It's amazing to think that all that high tech gadgetry still had to have some chick threading it onto a spool. 

A good quality scanner is still sort of big, bulky and expensive.  I wonder why this area of the market hasn't seen the drastic improvement as other areas such as networking, data storage, printing, etc.

Ah, the merging of the unwashed hippies with the starched shirt wearing businessmen.  This was a potent combination that was to usher in the digital age.



  1. Oh wow! This is great to see! Reminds me of that movie 'The Desk Set' with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey and the gigantic computer!

  2. I worked at an insurance company in the early '90s. They had an IBM AS/400 that was fairly newish. We still used mag tape for backups at that point. The tape drive had an automatic loading mechanism; you'd simply put the spool in so it was going the right direction, make sure the end of the tape was somewhat loose (not stuck via static adhesion), push a button, and a vacuum would start up that sucked the end of the tape into the path where it would be grabbed by the take-up reel somehow. Pretty nifty.

    We did nightly backups, then once a month a full backup, and I'd have to lug crates of tapes to my car and lock them in a vault at the off-site storage facility.

    About a year after I left they switched to DAT. The monthly backup could then fit into a box the size of a Hostess Ding Dongs box.

    We also had an older computer that a few old jobs ran on. It was a Data General, and we called it the Dirty Genital.

  3. in the future all computers will be as big as a house and they will be so expensive that only the nine richest princes of europe will own one!

  4. We just watched the Don Knotts movie How to Frame a Figg (with a super hot Yvonne Craig) and they said something like "He only paid $5000 for that computer so you know it's second hand." And it was a giant 4-section job.

    Watching old movies and TV shows with computers is always a laugh.

    1. AnonymousJune 15, 2012

      And wireless telephones the size of a bread box.

  5. When I was in 6th grade we went on a class field trip to see a computer. At school we had a way to remote into a computer via the phone line but the actual computer was a case after case of loud humming machines in an office building. What I remember most though was the cold. They had to keep the a/c very low so those things wouldn't overheat. This was around 1979.

  6. AnonymousJune 14, 2012

    The Computer History Museum is well worth a visit if you find yourself in the neighborhood and have a serious interest in information technology. If you go, be sure to time your visit so that you can see the Babbage Engine and PDP-1 demos.

  7. AnonymousJune 14, 2012

    Hey! Is that Al Frankin in pic #16?

  8. I see the mini was alive and well during the age of the large computers. As the computers got smaller, the hem lines got longer.

  9. I'm such a huge fan of these sh*t-box computers it's not funny! You should check out the movie "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" (the new one) it is fairly dull...BUT the HQ of M16 is a retro-tech geek's wet dream for out-moded gear. Mangnifique!

  10. AnonymousJune 14, 2012

    The guy with the ghastly pullover sweater on the far right in #7 looks like Andy Gibb.

  11. I kind of thought I saw either a Schafer Automation System (SAM) carousel or Harris/Gates Automation System reel to reel system, but I think most of it is office stuff. Schafer made automation data systems for offices too. Although #16 looks as close to any video or audio tech stuff. The guy looks like he is putting a story on a teletype or a script on a teleprompter (Speaking of which, I think the guy in the last picture is "Ron Burgendy?") In the mid 90s, I worked at a radio station in my hometown of Lebanon, Mo. They had an old huge carousel system that they had recently stop using. It think the company had bought it in the 70s or 80s. It was eventually moved it to the basement before I left.

  12. Paul DucaJune 14, 2012

    When it comes to computer capacity...the typical desktop or laptop of today has as much computing power as the entire WORLD did in 1970.

  13. AnonymousJune 15, 2012

    Girl looking back over her shoulder at dude: computer pancakes.

  14. Brings back memories of my first real job working the night shift in data processing at a bank. We had an IBM System 370 with 16 megabytes of memory! About a dozen tape drives, hard disk units as big as a refrigerator, you name it. (I still have my write ring collection in a box somewhere.)

  15. Kyle these were the good days. You see that IBM console i think is a 7048
    brings back many memories and OT.
    Thanks for sharing.

  16. The systems in #13 and #16 are DEC PDP systems. The terminal in each is a PDP-15 graphics terminal, which implies they're PDP-15 systems, fairly rare, although they could be the much more common PDP-11s.

  17. I can imagine that the fairly-unattractive lady on the left in the first photo underwent a transformation a few years of that: long flowing hair, tasty eyeshadow, fab seventies aviater shades, spike heeled boots. And soon becomes like the Ford Taurus: a damn good American ride.
    I stole the Taurus bit from the late, great Jim Varney.