IBM Punch Card (1937)

In 1881, Herman Hollerith, who would later form IBM, designed a paper punch machine to tabulate census data. It had taken the U.S. Census Bureau eight years to complete the 1880 census, but thanks to Hollerith's invention, that time was reduced to just one year. By 1937, IBM was processing up to 10 million punch cards each day. The paper-based storage medium remained prominent up until the 1970s before giving way to magnetic tape.

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Paper Tape

Punched tape or perforated paper tape were similar to punch cards because paper tape contained patterns of holes to represent recorded data. But unlike its rigid counterpart, rolls of paper tape could feed much more data in one continuous stream, and it was incredibly cheap to boot. The same couldn't be said for the hardware involved. In 1966, HP introduced the 2753A Tape Punch, which boasted a blistering fast tape punch speed of 120 characters per second and sold for $4,150.

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IBM Magnetic Tape

In the 1950s, IBM magnetic tape helped shape the computer and recording industry. Magnetic tape also changed the computing landscape by making long-term storage of vasts amount of data possible. A single reel of the oxide coated half-inch tape could store as much information as 10,000 punch cards, and most commonly came in lengths measuring anywhere from 2400 to 4800 feet. The long length presented plenty of opportunities for tears and breaks, so in 1952, IBM devised bulky floor standing drives that made use of vacuum columns to buffer the nickel-plated bronze tape. This helped prevent the media from ripping as it sped and up and slowed down.

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Hard Disk Drives

The first hard drive, the IBM 350, was introduced in 1956 and held an enormous 3.75MB of data. Over decades of development, hard drives got physically smaller and gained increased capacity due to leaps forward in technology as well as more efficient techniques to store data.

The early hard drives pictured below from our collection range in capacity from 10MB (first picture, IBM 62TM, circa 1974) to 36MB (second picture, Quantum Q540, circa 1983) to 42MB (third picture, Quantum 40S, circa 1985)

As of 2021, mainstream hard drives are available in capacities of up to 18TB in a standard 3.5 inch form factor. That's 4.8 million times more storage than the IBM 350!

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Audio Cassette Tape

Long before flash-based MP3 players and CDs ever existed, music buffs carried around their tunes on compact cassette tapes. It was Philips who introduced the medium first to Europe in 1963 and then to the U.S. one year later initially as a means for portable dictation. Not until the audio quality of music players improved did cassettes become popular for listening to music. Cassettes were an inexpensive storage medium for home PCs starting in the 1970s. A standard 90-minute cassette could store roughly 700KB of data per side, taking center stage on computers like the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, TRS-80, and others.

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T10000 Magnetic Tape

While Sun's StorageTek T10000 tape drive may seem out of place at this spot in our timeline, it is include to show the evolution of magnetic storage, which is still used today. Introduced in 2006, the T10000 can hold 500GB of data (the recent