Seminar: The IBM 1401: A Major Milestone in the History of Modern Computing

Lecturer: Mak

Location: Clark 226






M 7/27

9:00 10:30


Student Roster:

All students must attend.


The IBM 1401 was the world's most popular computer during most of the 1960s. By the middle of the decade, half of all computers were 1401s or members of its family.


In this seminar, we'll discuss the 1401 computer system in the context of modern computing history. How did this small scale system help free thousands of businesses and institutions from storing and processing data on punched cards? What were the unique aspects of its architecture? Why are the 1401 system's peripheral devices still considered electromechanical marvels today? What was it like to program the 1401? We'll do some simple Autocoder programming on a PC-based simulator. We'll also consider the questions: Why should you study the history of modern computing? What can you learn that you can apply now?


The Computer History Museum, which you'll visit after this seminar, has restored two fully operational IBM 1401 systems that you will see, hear, and experience. This seminar will also briefly introduce some of the other fascinating exhibits that you'll encounter at the museum.


Instructor bio: Ronald Mak started programming the IBM 1401 at age 14, which led to degrees in math and computer science from Stanford University. The highlight of his career in Silicon Valley was designing and leading the development of some key software for NASA's Mars rovers mission. He has written books on compilers, numerical computing, and the Martian software. Currently a research staff member at the IBM Almaden Research Center, he also teaches compiler writing and software engineering at San Jose State University, and he is a volunteer at the Computer History Museum.