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SPACE/1401 Product Test

Chuck Branscomb, Sept 18, 2011

Product Testing was responsible to assure IBM management that commitments made to IBM customers were based upon completed testing and evaluation. This included not only the technical and functional specifications but all marketing materials, brochures, etc. that represented the capability of the system being sold to customers. To implement this responsibility Product Testing was a separate organization reporting outside the laboratory directly to the Division president and had formal approval rights for announcement(A test), entry into production(B test), and shipment to customers(C test). If the Division president wanted to proceed to announcement without their approval, he had to communicate directly with the Corporate Management Committee. In net, the Product Testing function was a powerful one established by Thomas Watson, Sr.

... about testing of the 1401. We placed a fully functioning system – 1401 processor, 1402, and 1403 – for A test. As I recall, this system may not have had every single minor optional feature but it met all technical and functional specifications and I assure you that Product Testing thoroughly tested the system including reliability predictions, environmental, and acoustical specs. I do not recall exactly when they approved announcement but it was in September, 1959.

We were already building the next engineering models – at some point with the help of technicians from manufacturing not only to provide additional people but to begin to educate their people. One of these models was used for B test but I do not remember the timing. It is possible that Jim Ingram can be more specific on the timetable but my guess is that B test was completed in 1Q/1960. By the way, we also got some customer engineering maintenance people to help with models and also to give them early exposure to the 1401 and its technology.

I spent a lot of time in manufacturing in the summer of 1960 (as did many of the 1401 engineers) but I do not recall the specific timing of C test – my guess is that it was completed in the first half of September, 1960. The first system was “shipped” from the manufacturing floor on September, 30, 1960 (at 11:30PM – I was there) which met our commitment to ship in September. The manufacturing plan at announcement time was to ship 800 systems the first full year of production. When the large number of orders flowed in, the VP of engineering in our division (John Haanstra) demanded they double that number. Manufacturing initially said it could not be done but they stepped up to the plate and built 1700 systems the first full year of production.

The first official broad demonstration to customers was at the Hanover Fair in April, 1960 and the first engineering model was used for that demonstration. You may recall that IBM Europe had made an early push for a new product and they were delighted to get the first major demo for their customers and of course the Hanover Fair was the largest industrial fair in the world. I do not recall the demos you note but I do know that all the marketing functions were demanding demos because of the huge order rate.

Best wishes, Chuck