Tuesday, 6 February 2018

IBM 1403 Printer

This is an interesting feature on the IBM 1401 computer system which revolutionised computing in the early 1960s and it's printer the IBM 1403 which could reach 1,100 lines of print per minute. The 1403 was impact printer so of course was rather loud. I remember the printers connected to the (Prime) minicomputer at university, they were also fast and also sounded like a chain saw when in operation.

The printers were remote in another building from the actual computer which was in the campus' computer centre. If the printer paper fouled up and you were changing the paper you never knew if a print job sent from someone else in the faculty was about to come through and send everything into chaos. I suppose that counted as excitement back then.

Anyway returning to the 1403, it 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