[SIGCIS-Members] IBM 610

Petri Paju petpaju at utu.fi
Thu Mar 3 02:35:24 PST 2016

Thanks Pierre and all. I hope you don't mind but this reminded me of the minimal computers that some researchers, certainly in Europe, were focusing on in the mid-1950s. One such project was the G1a computer in Goettingen, West Germany, were the son of its developer Wilhelm Hopmann used the easy-to-use computer (that was not even finished at the time) from the first grades at primary school. Cornelio Hopmann, born 1950, wrote to me: "So when I got my as excercises: calculate the following sums, products etc. (just the normal stuff of primary [school]), my father showed me that with a few keystrokes "his" computer could do the same calculation (just like you would use today a desk-calculator). Once the example of package was established, I was able to finish the other exercises of a package on my own."

So the 6-7-year-old used this 'personal computer' for homework on a daily basis... (the interface being an IBM electric typewriter). In the Annals 2008, I wrote more on these minimal computer projects, including making a copy to Finland.


Petri Paju
PhD, Researcher in the project Towards a Roadmap for Digital History in Finland
History of Industrialization & Innovation Group, Aalto University,
and Department of Cultural History, University of Turku

From: Members [mailto:members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] On Behalf Of Mounier Kuhn
Sent: 3. maaliskuuta 2016 11:53
To: members
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] IBM 610

Thanks for this discussion. Bashe et al., in their book IBM's Early Computers, explain that the IBM 610 was not developed to answer any market demand ; it reflected the internal needs of IBM's growing staff of engineers and scientists who used desk calculators. Being not a priority, its development was delayed, but it inspired the successful IBM 1620... and perhaps many small computers marketed by competitors in the late 1950s. So we have a faily good idea of what use was envisioned : A scientist or engineer who needed to perform relatively simple calculations which did not justify the cost of waiting in line to use a mainframe.
It would be interesting to know :
- what competitive advantage the IBM 610 had over a good desk calculator ;
- how the IBM 610 was renamed from Personal Automatic Calculator to Auto-Point Computer (the choice of Computer makes sense, but Auto-Point?)
I have an alternative question (sorry if it is half off-topic !). In the early 1970s, the term micro-ordinateur [micro-computer] appeared in various development projects within the French Plan Calcul. It designated any « very small computer », whatever the technology - it was not necessarily related with microprocessors. Was the term micro-computer used in this broad sense in other locations, before 1975 when microprocessor-based micro-computers became the mainstream concept in this market segment ?
Pierre Mounier-Kuhn
CNRS & Université Paris-Sorbonne
L'Emergence d'une science: l'informatique<http://pups.paris-sorbonne.fr/catalogue/centre-roland-mousnier/linformatique-en-france-de-la-seconde-guerre-mondiale-au-plan-calcul>

Le 3 mars 2016 à 01:38, Hansen Hsu <hansnhsu at gmail.com<mailto:hansnhsu at gmail.com>> a écrit :

I've noticed this too. Gordon Bell, Wes Clark, and Alan Kay have all been on record saying that they considered the LINC the first personal computer, as it was also designed for use by an individual (a biomedical researcher).
Joe November's excellent book goes into some detail on this. LINC inspired some of the creators of the Alto, both in terms of the user's experience of controlling the entire machine, but also in some aspects of its hardware architecture.
I certainly think LINC belongs in the pre-history of the personal computer, as does Engelbart's NLS, but I would hesitate to call it a "personal computer" for precisely the reasons you've outlined for the IBM 610, which is even earlier.
If one took the criteria to be that an individual had complete control over the machine while in use, then TX-0 or even Whirlwind might count as personal computers. The term begins to lack meaning at that point.

On Mar 2, 2016, at 4:11 PM, Allan Olley <allan.olley at utoronto.ca<mailto:allan.olley at utoronto.ca>> wrote:

                      The 610 was under development as the Personal Automatic Computer (acording to this website and according to Bashe et al. in the MIT book IBM's Early Computer, a prototype was operating by 1954 with commercial release by 1957) it was intended as a more real time less batch modey sort of machine unlike other machines of that time, but no one really seriously seems to claim it has any relation to any other "personal computer" either in terms of hardware details (it apparently had very ideosyncratic hardware) or even as vague inspiration.
                      The key point I guess is that it pretty clearly has nothing to do with the microprocessor based computers of the 1970s and later that are usually called personal computers.

                      I have noticed that the idea of a personal computer and personal computing gets used to describe                      machines before the microprocessor machines of the 1970s. The website mentions the Bendix G-15 as another example of this (some apparently claim it as the first personal computer and it was released commercially in 1956). The issue here is that any computer an individual has complete control of regardless of its characteristics (size, intended use etc.) can become a personal computer in terms of how that user feels about it and interacts with it. So any computer can be a personal computer in that ambigious sense it seems to me. It also gets complicated because people's interactions with earlier transistor and vacuum tube machines influenced them in designing and using the microprocessor machines that are unambigiously personal computers. So there are connections that should be made that make it complicated.

Yours Truly,
Allan Olley, PhD


On Wed, 2 Mar 2016, John Impagliazzo wrote:

Hi All,

Allegedly, some consider the IBM 610 Auto-Point computer (1959) the
'first personal computer'. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/computinghistory/plugboard.html
Is this true - even slightly true??


John Impagliazzo, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Hofstra University
IEEE Life Fellow
ACM Distinguished Educator
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