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Don’t mess with Texas’s old computers

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2013

As recently as last year, a liquid filtration company in Texas was still using a computer built in 1948 to run all of its accounting work.

Sparkler’s IBM 402 is not a traditional computer, but an automated electromechanical tabulator that can be programmed (or more accurately, wired) to print out certain results based on values encoded into stacks of 80-column Hollerith-type punched cards.

Companies traditionally used the 402 for accounting, since the machine could take a long list of numbers, add them up, and print a detailed written report. In a sense, you could consider it a 3000-pound spreadsheet machine. That’s exactly how Sparkler Filters uses its IBM 402, which could very well be the last fully operational 402 on the planet. As it has for over half a century, the firm still runs all of its accounting work (payroll, sales, and inventory) through the IBM 402. The machine prints out reports on wide, tractor-fed paper.

Here’s what one of the computer’s apps look like:

IBM 402 apps

Objects in motion tends to stay in motion.

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