The Hard Disk Drive turns 50

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September 14, 2006 Awww shucks – we missed another birthday. Yesterday was the big FIVE OH of the hard disk drive, as on September 13, 1956, IBM shipped the 305 RAMAC. The 305 was the first magnetic hard disk for data storage, and RAMAC (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control) technology became the industry standard in short order. The storage capacity of the 305's 50 two-foot diameter disks was 5 megabytes of data, cost tens of thousands of dollars a year to lease and weighed in at more than a ton (that's it pictured with the girl on top).

Just to put it all in perspective, the modern computer is 60 (born February 14, 1946), the colour television is also 50 (born July, 1954), the digital camera is 30 (born October 7, 1975), the Apple II that became the first successful mass-produced PC is 29 (born April 17, 1977), the Sony Walkman (arguably the first identifiable forefather of the MP3 player) is 27 (born July 1, 1979), the IBM PC that started the whole IBM PC-compatible boom is 25 (born August 12, 1981), the computer virus is 20 (first known occurrence January, 1986), the MP3 is just 11 (born July 14, 1995) and the banner advert is 11 (born October 25, 1994). The first computer? Try 184 years old, for Charles Babbage’s programmable, steam-powered, “difference engine” and the world’s first computer programmer (Babbage's assistant and daughter of English poet Lord Byron, Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace) would be 191. Some excellent piccies in the image library with this story.

In early 1952, IBM opened an innovation laboratory at 99 Notre Dame Avenue in San Jose, California. Research work at this site led to the invention of the hard disk drive, which has become one of the computer industry's most significant technologies. IBM remained at 99 Notre Dame and expanded to other downtown sites until 1956 when the company moved into a new hard disk drive manufacturing plant at 5600 Cottle Road in South San Jose.

In 2003, Hitachi acquired Big Blue's hard drive business, combining it with it's own hard drive business (which had been a pioneer of the industry in the early sixties) to form Hitachi Global Storage Technologies. Today, Hitachi still maintains its hard drive corporate headquarters in San Jose, employing more than 3,000 people locally.

There’s an excellent article on the birth of the hard disk here.

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