50 Years Ago: The IBM 1401

I missed the exact 50th anniversary date, but here's a terrific short documentary celebrating the landmark IBM 1401 computer...and, more importantly, its people:

The IBM 1401 was so wildly popular that IBM provided optional 1401 emulation on the System/360 mainframes that were announced in 1964. Although it's hard to be certain, it is conceivable (and likely) that, somewhere, there are still programs originally written for the IBM 1401 that are running on today's System z mainframe, nearly 50 years on. Perhaps they've been modified and updated along the way, as business rules and other business needs evolved, but they were born many decades ago.

What an amazing journey.

by Timothy Sipples December 17, 2009 in History


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The IBM 1401 Data Processing System, a stored-program transistor-logic computer announced October 1959. At $2500 per month minimally configured, this was IBM's first affordable general-purpose computer, and it was intended to take the place of all the accounting machines and calculators that still provided a cheaper alternative to IBM's 650 and 70x computers. Thousands of 1401s were sold or rented; in fact, it was the first computer to deploy 10000 units. The 1401 was a decimal computer, with variable-length words composed of 8-bit bytes containing 6-bit BCD characters,and was intended primarily for business applications.

Posted by: 4gb sd card | Dec 17, 2009 6:56:21 AM

Interesting that IBM estimated they would sell about 3000 of these, and priced them accordingly. They ended up selling about 9000. Since the design/tooling/setup had already been paid for after 3000, they could have cut the cost significanly. They were being attacked by Honeywell & NCR with cheaper equivalents but were afraid that reducing the prices would prejudice their standing in the on-going anti-trust case, so they kept the original price and laughed all the way to the bank.

Posted by: Ray | Dec 17, 2009 9:44:33 AM

The 1401 used IBM's binary-coded-decimal (BCD) character coding. Each byte (or alphameric character) in the 1401 was represented by six bits, called A, B, 8, 4, 2 and 1. The A and B bits were called zone bits and the 8, 4, 2 and 1 bits were called numeric bits. Associated with each six-bit character were two other bits, called C for odd parity check and M for word mark, in the following format:

C B A 8 4 2 1 M

The 1401 was available in six memory configurations: 1.4K, 2K, 4K, 8K, 12K, or 16K (a very small number of 1401s were expanded to 32K by special RPQ - Request for Price Quotation). An optional "Advanced Programming Option" allowed for additional flags for 3 characters within the first 100.

Posted by: memoire d'ordinateur | Dec 21, 2009 1:52:41 AM

My first exposure to mainframe computing was with the 1401. I learned to write program on this system in 1963 - I was a junior in high school - because IBM sponsored an Explorer Scout post to teach how mainframe computing was integral to our society; during that two year sponsorship, I learned a lot about economies of scale as well as the logic behind effective programming. Don't forget that the IBM S/370 3155/3158 had a 1401 Emulator built in! Thanks for the memories!

Posted by: jc | Jan 25, 2010 2:13:33 PM

I wrote some code for the 1401 in about 1966, and it was soon transferred to our new 360/40. I know it was still running in 2003 on z/OS! I loved that machine, all 8K memory, and it had 5 or 6 tape decks for our sorts. It would take an hour or so to do the sort. On the 360/40, with DASD, the same sort took 2 minutes! Happy days!

Posted by: Al, Florida | Feb 7, 2010 7:16:11 AM

Yes 50yrs ago, but how about what happen just a few days ago;

FEP4600 Enterprise Communications Controller -
Replaces IBM® 3745s in Major Inter-Agency Metropolitan Network

Raleigh, N.C. – [February 8, 2010] – Visara International announces that it has successfully replaced IBM® 3745 Front End Processors with the Visara FEP4600 Enterprise Communications Controller in a major metropolitan Inter-Agency network. The objective of the project was to replace the aging and unsupported 3745s with the newer and more cost effective FEP4600. The rack mounted FEP4600 does not require any licensed software such as NCP or SSP while providing the same functional connectivity. The customer has estimated that the use of the FEP4600 will save more than $100K in annual software license and maintenance fees as compared to the IBM® 3745s, resulting in an ROI of less than 12 months. Besides the savings in license and maintenance fees, the FEP4600 eliminates the use of ESCON to Bus and Tag converters and saves on floor space as well as power and HVAC requirements.
The FEP4600 is providing communications via standard SDLC links to other agency 3745s. The next phase of this project is to utilize the FEP4600’s SNI over IP feature to eliminate the lower speed SDLC links. This feature allows the use of IP connectivity to provide SNI communications, allowing a highly reliable and flexible “Business Continuity” architecture.
According to Visara International's CEO Dr. Kenneth A. Bloom: "IBM decided several years ago to end their production and support for 3745/46 FEPs. This move forced many customers worldwide to keep their FEPs solely for SNI connectivity without a good alternative. This is where the FEP4600 really shines as it supports SNI and other standard protocols and network attachments with NO software license required”.
Management and configuration of the Visara FEP4600 is through a network browser connection. This allows the FEP4600 to be configured, controlled and monitored without the need to reload the system thus eliminating the need for scheduling of configuration changes during off hours.
Headquartered near Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, Avenir Technologies Inc. d/b/a Visara International is a global leader in the innovation and development of mainframe and midrange console solutions, Console Automation solutions, Virtual Tape Library and Printing Solutions. With offices throughout North America and internationally, Visara International designs, delivers and services its products through a worldwide network of direct and indirect sales. For additional information about Visara International's products and solutions, please visit our website at www.visara.com or email [email protected].

Posted by: Bob | Feb 9, 2010 10:29:26 AM

cool! IBM has been well known through most of its recent history as the world's largest computer company and systems integrator.

Posted by: Nursing clothing | May 14, 2010 3:51:12 AM

Wow. How time and technology has changed with time. The IBM 1401 could be called the "father of all computers". These machines occupied large spaces and with much less processing prowness of todays computer. Thanks for providing this history for me. I really appreciate it. I am not really a computer expert but I know that modern desktops and laptops evolved from these mainframes like the IBM 1401.

Posted by: Fitzroy | Jul 29, 2010 1:19:50 AM

1959? I thought the first proper computer chip was made in the 70s or was that the first personal computer?

Posted by: CNA Training | Oct 31, 2010 1:20:02 PM

The 1401 was so popular that (according to legend) 1401 applications were still running in 2000 on 1401 simulators (which themselves might be 70x0 applications, therefore running on simulators of their own), and this presented a special challenge in the Year-2000 conversion. You can bet that 1960-era programmers with a only few thousand bytes of memory at their disposal didn't "waste core" on 4-digit years!.

Posted by: ibm laptops | Feb 13, 2011 11:58:09 PM

n the early 1950s, IBM began moving rapidly into the new world of electronic data processing. While the famous 700 series of IBM computers was being developed at the company's Poughkeepsie, N.Y., facility, IBM's upstate Endicott, N.Y., laboratory was making its own important contribution to information technology history -- with an advanced machine that in the late-1950s was called "the workhorse of modern industry."

Posted by: ibm laptops | May 5, 2011 2:21:39 AM

i pity the children..i agree to Layla..Help save RIF's funding!!

Posted by: chemistry nursing | Jul 25, 2011 1:47:28 AM

[....]i pity the children..i agree to Layla..Help save RIF's funding!![....]

Posted by: duties certified nursing assistant | Jul 25, 2011 1:50:24 AM

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