Wednesday, 5 April 2017

IBM 1403 Printer

This is an interesting feature on the IBM 1401 computer system which revolutionised computing in the early 1960s and its (or strictly the follow-on 1460's) printer the IBM 1403 which could reach 1, 100 lines per minute. An impact printer of course so rather loud. I remember the printers connected to the (Pr1me) minicomputer at university, they were so fast yet also sounded like a chain saw.

The printers were also remote, in another building from the actual computer of course. If they fouled up you never knew (if you were changing the paper) if a print job sent from someone else would come through and send everything into chaos. That counted as excitement back then.

Anyway the 1403 was fast because it was a line printer. A chain of metal embossed characters (each character on the chain 5 times) continuously revolved and the paper was pushed against the relevant character (and an ink ribbon) by tiny hammers to print a character [1]. Hence the speed... and the noise. The article comes with an interesting video history of the 1401. You can see it below too.

[1] Barry Wilkinson & David Horrocks, Computer Peripherals (Edward Arnold, 1987) p. 90