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View a GE-Olivetti-Honeywell-Bull timeline.

A good source for IBM history is their Reference section. Use the "Glossary" by clicking on the first character or digit of the equipment you wish to read about. For instance, to read about the IBM 7090, click on "7".

Fri., May 09, 2003

IBM is out to prove its mainframes aren't dinosaurs. On Tuesday, it plans to introduce its newest mainframe computer, code-named T-Rex, which reportedly is capable of processing 450 million instructions per second--one-third more than IBM's most powerful current mainframe.


The History of the Mainframe Computer

An overview featuring representative samples of computers through history

We can't sell you one, but we can help you to program yours

1500 Leonardo da Vinci designs a mechanical calculator.
1823 Charles Babbage starts work on his Difference Engine.
1880 Herman Hollerith constructed a punched-card system to automate the U.S. census. He later sold the technology to the company that became IBM.
1906 The vacuum tube is invented by American physicist Lee De Forest.

The 1st Generation
The tube-based mainframe computers

1939 Dr. John V. Atanasoff and his assistant Clifford Berry build the first electronic digital computer. Their machine, the Atanasoff-Berry-Computer (ABC) provided the foundation for the advances in electronic digital computers
1941 Konrad Zuse (recently deceased in January of 1996), from Germany, introduced the first programmable computer designed to solve complex engineering equations. This machine, called the Z3, was also the first to work on the binary system instead of the decimal system.
1942 Vannevar Bush's "Rockefeller Differential Analyzer" -- a one-hundred-ton machine with 2000 vacuum tubes and 150 motors, is dedicated at MIT. Bush's Analyzer was an analog computer as opposed to today's digital computers. A thermostat is a simple analog computer. It was used to calculate ballistic trajectories during W.W.II.
  British Intelligence's Colossus built at Bletchly Park by British mathematician Alan Turing. It was a large-scale electronic machine. The Colossus, a special-purpose machine developed to decode secret messages, performed the logical, as opposed to arithmetical, operations necessary to defeat the famous German code machine Enigma.
1944 Eniac (electronic numerical integrator and calculator ) was placed in operation at the Moore School. By today's standards for electronic computers the ENIAC was a grotesque monster. Its thirty separate units, plus power supply and forced-air cooling, weighed over thirty tons. Its 19,000 vacuum tubes, 1,500 relays, and hundreds of thousands of resistors, capacitors, and inductors consumed almost 200 kilowatts of electrical power. But ENIAC was the prototype from which most other modern computers evolved. Eniac was originally used for ballistics, but played a roll in the development of the atomic bomb.
  Howard Aiken, in collaboration with engineers from IBM, constructed a large automatic digital sequence-controlled computer called the Harvard Mark I. This computer could handle all four arithmetic operations, and had special built-in programs for logarithms and trigonometric functions.
1945 John von Neumann wrote "First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC" in which he outlined the architecture of a stored-program computer. This report changed the direction of computer development away from punched paper tape.
  September 9th, Grace Hopper (one of the creators of the COBOL programming language) recorded the first actual computer "bug" — a moth stuck between the relays and logged at 15:45 hours on the Harvard Mark II.
1947 On December 23, William Shockley, Walter Brattain, and John Bardeen successfully tested this point-contact transistor, setting off the semiconductor revolution
  Bell Labs physicists Shockley, Brattain, and Bardeen create the first Germanium transistor.
1948 Remington engineers complete the Model 3, a one of a kind concept computer.
  GE Electronics Laboratory in Syracuse wins an order for a USAF tube computer, named OARAC.
1951 The first UNIVAC I mainframe computer was delivered to the Census Bureau. Unlike the ENIAC, the UNIVAC processed each digit serially. But its much higher design speed permitted it to add two ten-digit numbers at a rate of almost 100,000 additions per second. Internally. It was the first mass-produced computer. The central complex of the UNIVAC was about the size of a one-car garage: 14 feet by 8 feet by 8.5 feet high. It was a walk-in computer. The vacuum tubes generated an enormous amount of heat, so a high capacity chilled water and blower air conditioning system was required to cool the unit. The complete system had 5200 vacuum tubes, weighed 29,000 pounds, and consumed 125 kilowatts of electrical power.
1952 The Remington (later SperryRand) Model 409 was delivered to the Internal Revenue Service facility in Baltimore.
  MANIAC (mathematical analyzer, numerical integrator and computer) built at Los Alamos by Metropolis. It was responsible for the calculations of Mike, the first hydrogen bomb. It was followed by MANIAC II, the IBM-built STRETCH supercomputer and a series of commercial super computers that have made the Laboratory the world's largest scientific computing center
  The IBM 701 Electronic Data Processing Machine announced by IBM President Thomas J. Watson, Jr. was IBM's first commercially available scientific computer and the first IBM machine in which programs were stored in an internal, addressable electronic memory. It was the first of the pioneering line of IBM 700 series mainframe computers, including the 702, 704, 705 and 709. The computer consisted of two tape units (each with two tape drives), a magnetic drum memory unit, a cathode-ray tube storage unit, an L-shaped arithmetic and control unit with an operator's panel, a card reader, a printer, a card punch and three power units. The 701 could perform more than 16,000 addition or subtraction operations a second, read 12,500 digits a second from tape, print 180 letters or numbers a second, and output 400 digits a second from punched-cards.
1953 IBM's drum memory 650 computer, announced. It sold for $200,000 to $400,000 and was a great success: more than 1800 were sold or leased.. The basic IBM 650 had 2000 words of memory and 60 words of core memory. It was the first computer on which IBM made a meaningful profit.
  First IBM 701 delivered.
1955 IBM 704 announced. It was the first large-scale commercially available computer system to employ fully automatic floating point arithmetic commands. It was a large-scale, electronic digital computer used for solving complex scientific, engineering and business problems and was the first IBM machine to use FORTRAN. The 704 and the 705 were the first commercial machines with core memories.
  IBM 705 announced. Developed primarily to handle business data, it could multiply numbers as large as one billion at a rate of over 400 per second. In a 1954 IBM publication, the 705 was credited with "Forty thousand or twenty thousand characters of high-speed magnetic core storage; Any one of the characters in magnetic core storage can be located or transferred in 17 millionths of a second; Any one of these characters is individually addressable."
  Honeywell computer business was originated from the Datamatic Corporation, founded in Newton MA, as a joint-venture by Raytheon and Honeywell, to produce large-scale computer systems. Raytheon sells its 40% interest to Honeywell in 1957

The 2nd Generation
Transistor Computer Systems

1956 The Air Force accepts the first UNIVAC Solid State Computer. The machine was one of the first to use solid state components in its central processing unit. Remington Rand was not able to market a commercial version for three years. The UNIVAC Solid State Computer came in two versions: the Solid State 80 handled IBM-style 80 column cards, while the Solid State 90 was adapted for Remington Rand's 90 column cards. A Solid State system consisted of the CPU and drum memory, card reader, card punch, and printer. There was the option of adding a tape controller and up to ten UNISERVO II tape drives. The drives could read both mylar tape and the old UNIVAC metallic tape: the mode was selected by a switch on the front of the drive. Actually a hybrid, the CPU had twenty vacuum tubes, 700 transistors, and 3000 FERRACTOR amplifiers.
1957 Installation of the first Honeywell Datamatic D-1000 to Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan.
1958 Introduction of Honeywell H-800 first shipped in 1960.
  Delivery of first GE ERMA system. Two years later it is renamed GE-210. It was also sold by NCR as NCR-204.
1959 The fully transistorized IBM 7090 computer system delivered. The system had computing speeds up to five times faster than those of its predecessor, the IBM 709. It was both a scientific and business machine. It was finally withdrawn from production in 1969
  The IBM 1401 was called the Model T of the computer business, because it was the first mass-produced digital, all-transistorized, business computer that could be afforded by many businesses worldwide. The basic 1401 was about 5 feet high and 3 feet across. It came with 4,096 characters of memory. The memory was 6-bit (plus 1 parity bit) CORE memory, made out of little metal donuts strung on a wire mesh at IBM factories. The 1401 had an optional Storage Expansion Unit which expanded the core storage to an amazing 16K. The 1401 processing unit could perform 193,300 additions of eight-digit numbers in one minute. The monthly rental for a 1401 was $2,500 and up, depending on the configuration. By the end of 1961, the number of 1401s installed in the United States alone had reached 2,000 -- representing about one out every four electronic stored-program computers installed by all manufacturers at that time. The number of installed 1401s peaked at more than 10,000 in the mid-1960s, and the system was withdrawn from marketing in February 1971.
1960 UNIVAC announced the 1107( actually completed in 1962) with the EXEC I operating system which occupied about 8K of the 1107's 32K of memory. It was intended to support true multiprogramming: sharing CPU time among several batch runs.
  Introduction of Honeywell 400
  Decision to launch the GE Mosaic line, a family of four 24-bits computers. The lower models will be announced as GE-415, GE-425 and GE-435. They will be known as Compatible GE-400 series.
1961 IBM 7040 and 7044 computer systems announced.
1962 Introduction of Honeywell 1800 (first shipped in 1964).
  IBM's 1440 Data Processing System was a low-cost compact electronic computer designed specifically for small and medium-size business firms.
  IBM 7094 computer announced. With a memory reference speed of two microseconds (millionth of a second), the 7094 could in one second perform 500,000 logical decisions, 250,000 additions or subtractions, 100,000 multiplications or 62,500 divisions. The 7094 internally performed mathematical computations 1.4 to 2.4 times faster than the IBM 7090, A typical 7094 sold for $3,134,500. IBM provided customers with a complete package of 7090/7094 programs, including FORTRAN and COBOL programming languages, input-output control system and sorting, without charge. The 7094 was withdrawn from marketing in 1969.
1963 Introduction of Honeywell H-200, a machine targeting the IBM 1401, with a similar architecture and a "Liberator" program translator.

The 3rd Generation computers
Multiprocessing and operating systems make the scene

1960's Burroughs B5000 mainframe introduced. The system can be considered the first of the "third generation" of computer systems. The most remarked-upon aspects are its use of a hardware-managed stack for calculation, and the extensive use of descriptors for data access. It included virtual memory -- perhaps the first commercial computer to do so -- as well as support for multiprogramming and multiprocessing.
1964 CDC (Computer Data Corp.) 6600 shipped; 100 nsec cycle time.
  First GE Time-sharing operation at Dartmouth College of the DTSS Dartmouth time-sharing system on a GE-265 (GE-225 + Datanet-30)
  IBM announces the 360 family of computer systems.
  The Burroughs B5500, appeared. It also had multiprogramming and virtual memory capabilities, but was three times faster than the B5000
1965 IBM ships the midrange 360 model 40 computer which had COBOL and FORTRAN programming languages available as well as the stock Basic Assembly Language (BAL) assembler.
  Introduction of GECOS-II, a multi-programming operating system for the GE-600
1966 The Burroughs B6500, which was actually an improved version of the B5500.
1967 First IBM 360/Model 91 shipped to NASA GSFC.
1969 First shipment of the CDC 7600 computer system.

First shipment of IBM 360 Model 85. The 360 family was intended to have 3 operating systems:

  • DOS/360 operating system for the small machines. It could run two "real-time" sessions and one batch session.
  • OS/360 operating system for the midrange and high end.
  • TSS/360 operating system for Time-sharing Multi-user system
  Introduction of Honeywell model 115 in the H-200 product line. The line was renamed H-2000 after models 115/2, 1015 and 2015 introduced in January 1971, and model 2020 and 2030 in December 1972 after the GE merger. The line was eventually merged into Series6 0 NPL through a H-200 mode (emulator) on level 64.
  Introduction of GE-655 that was better known as H-6000 after 1970.
1970 Burroughs announces the 700 series. The first B6700 computer systems were installed during 1971. It was the first Burroughs machine with dynamic linking of programs at runtime. The B6700 line started out with one CPU and one i/o processor and could be expanded up to a maximum of three CPUs and two i/o processors.
  Formal acquisition of Bull-General Electric by Honeywell. BGE takes the name of Honeywell-Bull.
  IBM announces a family of machines with an enhanced instruction set, called System/370. The 370s proved so popular that there was a two-year waiting list of customers who had ordered a systems.
  A giant dies: Announcement of the cession of the world-wide GE computer business, except time-sharing to Honeywell.
1971 US Air Force orders several Honeywell H-6000 WWMCCS (World Wide Military Command and Control System), a $3.5M contract.
  First shipments of IBM S/370 Models 155 and 165 as well as the S/360 Model 195.
1973 Introduction of virtual memory on IBM S/370 Models 158 and 168.
1975 Amdahl 470 V/6 computer system delivered to NASA.
1977 The Burroughs Scientific Processor was developed, and announced.
  IBM 3033 computer system announced
1979 The Burroughs 900-level systems were introduced.
1985 The most powerful IBM computer system of its time, the 3090 high-end processor of the IBM 308X computer series incorporated one-million-bit memory chips, Thermal Conduction Modules to provide the shortest average chip-to-chip communication time of any large general purpose computer. The Model 200 (entry-level with two central processors) and Model 400 (with four central processors) IBM 3090 had 64 and 128 megabytes of central storage, respectively. At the time of announcement, the purchase price of a Model 200 was $5 million. A later six-processor IBM 3090 Model 600E, using vector processors, could perform computations up to 14 times faster than the earlier four-processor IBM 3084.
1990 The ES/9000 models came out with fiber-optical I/O channels (ESCON), and IBM began using the name System/390. The ES/9000s exploited new technologies, such as high-speed fiber optic channels with IBM's new ESCON architecture, ultra-dense circuits and circuit packaging that provided higher performance, extended supercomputing capabilities and twice the processor memory previously available. The line spanned a 100-fold performance range increase from the smallest (model 120) to the most powerful (model 900 six-way multiprocessor). Basic purchase prices for the air-cooled processors of ES/9000 ranged from approximately $70,500 to $3.12 million. Basic purchase prices for the water-cooled models ranged from $2.45 million to $22.8 million.
1999 IBM releases a new generation of S/390.

The S/390 G5/G6 enterprise server family has up to 256 channels, from 2 to 8 Cryptographic Coprocessors, from 8 to 32 Gigabytes of memory, and can run under OS/390, MVS, VM, VSE, or TPF operating systems. It can also host an unbelievable amount of hard drive storage.

Let's see a PC match that!


mage of IBM mainframe computer courtesy of International Business Machines Corporation. Unauthorized use not permitted.

The 3/4 ton IBM eServer zSeries 890, dubbed the "Baby Shark" can host up to 32 GBytes of memory. The four PCIX Crypto Coprocessor (and optional PCI Crypto Accelerators) on the z890 have seven engine levels, giving a total of 28 capacity settings overall.

With it's advanced virtualization technology the 64-bit z890 can run several operating systems at the same time including z/OS, OS/390®, z/VM®, VM/ESA®, VSE/ESA, TPF and Linux for zSeries and Linux for S/390®.

The z890 is upgradeable within z890 family and can also upgrade to z990 from select z890 configurations.

Configured with the new Enterprise Storage Server Model 750 which handles from 1.1TB up to 4.6TB of data, the x890 makes an awesome server.

2007 IBM produces the Blue-Gene/P, a system capable of a petaflop (1,000,000 gigaflops or 1,000 teraflops). It sports 73,728 processors comprised of four cores each of IBM’s 850MHz PowerPC 450, resulting in 294,912 cores. The system can be scaled to nearly three times that size, resulting in a 3 petaflop capability and is all hooked up via a high-end optical network.


  • A Short History of the Second American Revolution
    by Dilys Winegrad and Atsushi Akera
  • Dr. Dobb's History of Computing

  • IBM

  • IBM 360/370/3090/390
    by Lars Poulsen

  • Manhattan Project History
    Society for the Historical Preservation of the Manhattan Project

  • Unisys History Newsletter
  • BULL computers chronological history

  • ENIAC Story, The
    by Martin H. Weik

  • IBM Advanced Computing Systems -- Draft Timeline
    by Mark Smotherman

  • Incredible Shrinking Computer, The
    by Matt Lake

  • Technological Threshold, The

  • Visit the Computer History Museum
    by Barbara Darrow, Larry Hooper & Kristen Kenedy


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