Monday, July 28, 2014Heavy Rain 18°C
Tech

Vintage computers and technology in Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / September 22, 2011

Vintage computers Toronto TTC CBCAs I've mentioned before, one of the best parts of digging around the Toronto Archives is the stuff you find that you were never looking for. I'd guess that at least a third of the ideas I've had for historical posts about the city have come via some serendipitous discovery or another. Today's installment certainly fits this bill.

When I was putting together a post about what banks used to look like in Toronto, I happened to stumble upon some spectacular, Kubrick-esque shots of an unidentified computer room that got me wondering if there were any more like them in the City's digitized collection. As it turns out, there are — though not as many as I'd like.

Not being much of an expert on old computers, the little collection below is organized by aesthetics more than anything else. The technology used by the TTC, CBC and chartered accountants featured below is obviously quite different, but its size and design (not to mention the way that it's been photographed) places it within a particular historical context that's been all the rage since Mad Men took off a few years ago.

Because it seems compulsory to note just how rudimentary some of these computing systems were, here's some of the specs on the processing power of the IBM System 360 seen below: "The slowest System/360 models announced in 1964 ranged in speed from 0.0018 to 0.034 million instructions per second (MIPS); the fastest System/360 models were approximately 50 times as fast with 8 kB and up to 8 MB of internal main memory, though the latter was unusual, and up to 8 megabytes of slower Large Core Storage (LCS). A large system might have 256 kB of main storage." By contrast, the Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition (990x) does 159,000 MIPS at 3.46 GHz.

Well, at least according to Wikipedia — which is about as far as my will to research this subject goes. I just really like the pictures...

TTC control roomTTC controls for Davisville and Eglinton Station, 1953/54

Toronto Pumping StationControl Room, Toronto Central Pumping Station, 1960s

Vintage Computers TorontoComputer room at unidentified bank, 1960s

Vintage Computers TorontoComputer room at unidentified bank, 1960s

Vintage Computers TorontoComputer room at Winspear, Higgins and Stevenson chartered accountants , 1960s

Vntage Computers TorontoComputer room at Winspear, Higgins and Stevenson chartered accountants, 1960s

Vintage Computers TorontoCBC Control Room, 1960s

Vintage Computers TorontoCBC Control Room, 1960s

Control Room TTCTTC Control Room, 1967

Control Room TTCTTC Control Room, 1965

Control Room TTCTTC Control Room, 1965

Control Room TTCTTC Control Room, 1967

Photos from the Toronto Archives

Discussion

47 Comments

lost / September 22, 2011 at 04:34 pm
user-pic
"Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm a…fraid. Good afternoon, gentlemen. "
Pawel / September 22, 2011 at 04:44 pm
user-pic
so effing dope!!!
Addy Saeed / September 22, 2011 at 04:46 pm
user-pic
Holy sideburns... :)
mike in parkdale / September 22, 2011 at 04:52 pm
user-pic
I wish I lived in an age before computers. Really... I do!
HAL / September 22, 2011 at 04:54 pm
user-pic
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I'm half crazy all for the love of you. It won't be a stylish marriage, I can't afford a carriage. But you'll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.
Torontonian / September 22, 2011 at 05:06 pm
user-pic
I had a summer job at Imperial Life in 1960 and
the computer floor (5th floor) was separately
air conditioned and it felt like a cold spring morning.

The noise was terrific with all the ka-chunk,ka-chunk
of the printers and the whirring of the tractor
mechanism for the forms in the printers. Then there
were the card sorters.

The heat was amazing because all the equipment was
tube powered--the transistor hadn't made the inroad
in 1960 that it would do in later years.

The connector cables and power supplies were hidden under
the false floor on which everything rested. The false floor was about 30 cm above the building's structural floor.

Then there were the keypunch operators who had their own area and 30 of those machines going on all day, every day was also a challenge to the ears.

-----

Looking at the first photo, I wonder how small the same amount of data processing power would be nowadays.
Taliba / September 22, 2011 at 05:49 pm
user-pic
I'd like to know how they computed the length of those sideburns.
handfed / September 22, 2011 at 07:19 pm
user-pic
hot
Adam Sobolak / September 22, 2011 at 07:26 pm
user-pic
I still like to whimsically refer to computers as "Univacs". (A throwback when "Univac" threatened to be a generic term like "Xerox", "Kleenex", etc)
Adam / September 22, 2011 at 07:49 pm
user-pic
Derek Flack, I think I'm in love with you.
Dan / September 22, 2011 at 08:01 pm
user-pic
If I assigned 4 cores in my machine, I'd probably beat the combined computing power of everything in those pictures combined, while at the same time I'd be using the other processor to do all the stuff I'm doing.

I can imagine all these machines running hot trying to keep up with what they were tasked to do while my machine is basically idling.
rick mcginnis replying to a comment from Torontonian / September 22, 2011 at 08:13 pm
user-pic
"Looking at the first photo, I wonder how small the same amount of data processing power would be nowadays."

Look at your phone. That would be twenty of those rooms.
TakeTheCar / September 22, 2011 at 08:23 pm
user-pic
Judging by our current state of affairs, I'm betting that a)they are still using this same control room... and b)it looked cleaner and more organized in the 1960s than it does now.
Taliba replying to a comment from TakeTheCar / September 22, 2011 at 08:45 pm
user-pic
Maybe we can get them up and running again after weathering the first round of cutbacks.
Damean / September 22, 2011 at 09:17 pm
user-pic
If all sysadmins looked like the guy from the unidentified bank, the world would be a better place.
David / September 23, 2011 at 12:54 am
user-pic
When I worked at Sun Life in the late 60s, the company computer was a Univac II, with 48K of memory and all input/output was via magnetic tape. It was the size of a small room and its electronics were vacuum tubes.

It was replaced by an IBM 360 in the early 70s.
pak pak / September 23, 2011 at 07:28 am
user-pic
Just think...those machines live in landfills today.
Olavery replying to a comment from Torontonian / September 23, 2011 at 08:29 am
user-pic
The problem is we simply don't make anything with that little power today. A iPhone is many orders of magnitude more computationally powerful. Single system on a chip computers are orders of magnitude more powerful. You could easily fit 10x the computational power of a IBM 360 on a single IC. So this would be ten of those floors: http://laserpointerforums.com/attachments/f57/15062-macro-shots-webcam-ic-finger-ic.jpg

Unimaginable? Transistors sure were a big leap forward.
Torontonian replying to a comment from pak pak / September 23, 2011 at 08:41 am
user-pic
I wonder if any parts of them ended up in
new automobiles or household appliances.
Craig Milton / September 23, 2011 at 10:38 am
user-pic
The part that makes me smile the most, is the fact that the Motorola ATRIX SuperPhone in my shirt pocket right now, could kick the collective crap out of all of those machines at the same time WHILE I'm playing Angry Birds.
idogcow / September 23, 2011 at 12:59 pm
user-pic
When did john hodgman meet john hodgman?
Eric S. Smith / September 23, 2011 at 03:11 pm
user-pic
Just before you decide that your phone beats one of those old data centres, remember that you’ve got to produce a bunch of printed output to do the whole job.
nebdy replying to a comment from rick mcginnis / September 24, 2011 at 03:20 am
user-pic
Yes, look at your phone. Or your thumb drive. The picture shows mostly a lot of tape drives and someone sitting in front of a bunch of lights and switches. All those tape drives don't hold a fraction of what goes on a modest thumb drive today.
Hens / September 24, 2011 at 08:46 am
user-pic
Wow those things were bugly alright. I read an old report during some post summer garage cleaning and it features similar devices made me experience some nostalgia. Amazing how far we've come along. I'll probably share that magazine with a couple of my buddies at gemini c group they should have a chuckle.Good post
Hens / September 24, 2011 at 08:47 am
user-pic
Wow those things were bugly alright. I read an old report during some post summer garage cleaning and it features similar devices made me experience some nostalgia. Amazing how far we've come along. I'll probably share that magazine with a couple of my buddies at gemini c group they should have a chuckle.Good post
Christian Vogel / September 24, 2011 at 02:25 pm
user-pic
To give an impression about computer-gear of that vintage in operation, here's a youtube-channel of a fellow in Germany running old (most stuff is about his Honeywell H316) computer gear.

http://www.youtube.com/iraeus

Spoken explanations are in German, but there are subtitles :-)
Peter Jennings / September 24, 2011 at 08:18 pm
user-pic
Ah, this brings back such sweet memories.

I just wish the smell could be bottled, too.

I can almost smell it when I look at the top picture. That combination of machine oil and hot electronics, cleaning products and a background hinr of cold cigarette smoke and cheap perfume.
Simon Høgh / September 24, 2011 at 08:27 pm
user-pic
Sadly most of the old computers from that era were dumped.
Only one piece of our IBM 360 and Borroughs 6700 are left - their name plates! The rest were dumped after their leases expired.
Brad / September 24, 2011 at 10:39 pm
user-pic
Corey you always post about Canada but, why did you move away?
grimatongueworm / September 25, 2011 at 01:22 pm
user-pic
When processing power was measured in square feet of floor space.
Tommie Mademark / September 25, 2011 at 04:13 pm
user-pic
Fortunately, there are people that preserve computer history such as the University of Lund in Sweden where my Data General MV/8000 minicomputer from 1982 comes from. When it was decommissioned late 1980 it was stored in the basement where it sat for 25 years. 5 days before being sent to the scrappers, the guys found my blog and asked me if I wanted the system which I did and it is now a part of my collection of minicomputers from the 1970’s and 80’s which can be seen at http://www.foxdata.com/blog/. The Data General MV/8000 is the star of the Pulitzer prize winning book “The Soul of a new machine”.
Tommie Mademark / September 25, 2011 at 05:44 pm
user-pic
Fortunately, there are people that preserve computer history such as the University of Lund in Sweden where my Data General MV/8000 minicomputer from 1982 comes from. When it was decommissioned late 1980 it was stored in the basement where it sat for 25 years. 5 days before being sent to the scrappers, the guys found my blog and asked me if I wanted the system which I did and it is now a part of my collection of minicomputers from the 1970’s and 80’s which can be seen at http://www.foxdata.com/blog/. The Data General MV/8000 is the star of the Pulitzer prize winning book “The Soul of a new machine”.
onehop / September 26, 2011 at 11:26 am
user-pic
You need a picture of a high-speed check sorter, too. A marvelous machine that sorted paper checks. At that time, checks had to physically moved to the bank of deposit, and a check sorter read the magnetic routing number on the check. Sorters could sort offline but when connected to a S/370, they reduced the number of sorting passes.
I don't recall the sorting speed, but you couldn't see individual checks, just a blur as they passed through.
Quite noisy too. Ours was on the computer floor but in a room with a sliding glass door.
onehop / September 26, 2011 at 11:27 am
user-pic
You need a picture of a high-speed check sorter, too. A marvelous machine that sorted paper checks. At that time, checks had to physically moved to the bank of deposit, and a check sorter read the magnetic routing number on the check. Sorters could sort offline but when connected to a S/370, they reduced the number of sorting passes.
I don't recall the sorting speed, but you couldn't see individual checks, just a blur as they passed through.
Quite noisy too. Ours was on the computer floor but in a room with a sliding glass door.
Geoff Gunson / September 26, 2011 at 11:30 am
user-pic
Don't forget it was largely thanks to one of those old machines (big bertha) that allows us to be writing English now.
Br.Bill replying to a comment from Olavery / September 26, 2011 at 01:44 pm
user-pic
Indeed, if one of those machines typically had 48K as mentioned, compare that to my 32GB iPhone - almost 700,000 times as much memory (although the phone has mostly flash memory, not RAM). Ignoring differences between these two kinds of storage, this device in my pocket literally has more memory than all the computers that existed in the world in 1960, and possibly exceeds their combined disk storage as well.
Bob Munck / September 26, 2011 at 07:05 pm
user-pic
The System/360 shown in the 3rd..6th pictures (sideburns guy) is the Mod 50, a midrange machine with a speed of about 1.5 MHz (megahertz, not gigahertz). It's an early model, with 2311 disk drives rather than the later 2314s. We got the first production machine of the 50 series at Brown in 1966, mostly because Tom Watson Jr. was an alum. Ours had 256 KB of main memory (core) and 9 MB of disk storage on 3 2311s. It was the only computer in the University.

My first program on it seized control of the OS and typed "I want a cookie" on the 1052 console. It wouldn't do anything until the operator typed "cookie." At $0.60 per second (today's dollars), this was an expensive stunt.

It worries me that I remember all those four-digit serial numbers 45 years later.
Snowman / September 27, 2011 at 12:46 pm
user-pic

What the hell would those people do all day, sitting there like that? There aren't any screens! "At 2pm flip this switch. If this light comes on, call me immediately." Another interesting tidbit to know - which I didn't see mentioned here - would be cost. I'm sure these machines were expensive as all new technology tends to be.
M.Dee / September 27, 2011 at 09:40 pm
user-pic
They would need massive AC systems in those rooms just to keep the huge mainframes cool. Nowadays the decentralization of computing, networks, popularity of multiple server locations and the progression of technology to become smaller and more powerful make those interesting glimpses into the past.
Colby / September 28, 2011 at 09:42 am
user-pic
And one more...http://twitpic.com/545jqf
Rob / September 29, 2011 at 11:08 am
user-pic
I'm sure the TTC control room looks very similar today...along with some of the employees no doubt
Hugh / October 2, 2011 at 02:05 pm
user-pic
The first computer is an IBM 7000 series machine. Probably a 7090 (that machine was upgraded a few times and I don't remember the sequence; perhaps 7090 => 7090 mark II => 7094. I used it a bit in 1967-1969.

The room was on the first floor of the Sandford Fleming Building (might have been called MacLennan Labs at the time). The building had a fire in the 1977.

The machine was moved to the MacLennan Labs (the name had moved!) and finished out its days analyzing bubble chamber experiments I think.

It probably had 32K words of core memory, each 36 bits wide. I think that was the most that was possible (15 bit addresses).
Data Centre / May 15, 2012 at 10:06 am
user-pic
Brings back many memories. I worked on ICL mainframes in the seventies. Spent many an hour feeding in punched cards and paper tape. I must have also loaded a few thousand magnetic tapes. Although nostalgic, its good to see the impressive sytems used today.
joe / November 18, 2012 at 03:56 pm
user-pic
Wow those things were bugly alright. I read an old report during some post summer garage cleaning and it features similar devices made me experience some nostalgia. Amazing how far we've come along. I'll probably share that magazine with a couple of my buddies at gemini c group they should have a chuckle.Good post
I was wondering if you know a good laptop repair center in Toronto like http://laptops-repairs.ca/ . they are nice
John G.Lyng / October 23, 2013 at 06:01 pm
user-pic
The irony is that the banks still use IBM mainframes running an updated version of the same MVS operating system. Kubrick got it wrong in the 60's: by 2001 we didn't have computers that are almost human, we just updated the old tin cans.
Costa Blanca Murcia Property / April 17, 2014 at 05:59 am
user-pic
Classic photos and hairstyles! I remember feeding rolls and rolls of paper tape and loading thousands of magnetic tapes in the 70's. Thank goodness for 21st century modern technology!
Jay replying to a comment from Torontonian / May 28, 2014 at 03:38 pm
user-pic
All of that and more would fit into your shirt pocket and store your music, photos, movies, and have access to the world's knowledge (and let's face it, the world's ignorance as well).

Add a Comment

Other Cities: Montreal