By Harry McCracken | Saturday, July 4, 2009 at 11:22 am
In 2009, portability is the default state of affairs with computers, since laptops outsell desktop PCs. But in the 1960s, the typical computer was a room-filling mainframe; minicomputers, which were merely the size of a refrigerator, were the small computers of the day.
Which didn’t mean that folks weren’t craving the concept of mobile computing even back then. I was just rummaging through Google’s invaluable archive of several decades of Computerworld, and came across a short item from March 1968 on carrying cases for the typewriter-like Teletype terminals that were then used to interface with mainframes and minis. Anderson Jacobson sold the cases both separately and as a package with a Teletype pre-installed. (Sadly, the Computerworld story doesn’t say how much you had to pay for one of these portable Teletype systems. Maybe if you had to ask, you couldn’t afford one.)
One model of Teletype weighed a trim 75 pounds in its case; another, was an even more featherweight 65 pounds. The cases offered optional wheels in case you wanted to roll your Teletype along. The gent in the photo below didn’t need the wheels–I wonder if he tried to store his Teletype below the seat in front of him when he traveled by airplane?
Of course, putting a Teletype in a case didn’t really give you access to a mainframe’s mighty computing power anywhere; the Teletype had to be plugged in and connected via a dial-up modem (with an acoustic coupler that attached to your telephone’s handset). What it did was help you move a big, bulky piece of equipment from place to place with a little less difficulty. But the yen to go mobile was there. Wonder how the guy in the photo would have reacted if you’d shown him even the most mundane notebook from 2009?