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According to this paper (translation), one of the early soviet machines, M-1, was only able to print decimal, and not alphabetical numbers.

Which other early electronic stored program computers (i.e. those that are based on vacuum tubes, transistors or ICs) also printed only decimals?

By saying 'printed only decimals' I mean that there were no provisions during the design phase to print anything except numbers, as otherwise any computer would formally apply.

  • Many, probably most, electronic calculators are implemented with a small microcontroller, and have been since at least the first scientific calculators of the 1970s. Even many four-function calculators are implemented that way. So, all the calculators. – RETRAC Nov 27 '19 at 15:24
  • Some but not all letters: the Olivetti Programma 101. No ability to print general text, but some keys were labelled with letters (register names) and programs could be listed, so I imagine those letters could be output. I don't recall if a running program could output other than numbers. – another-dave Nov 27 '19 at 22:55
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Simpy any computer with just a numerical printer attached.


As integrated device,

  • a first may be Powers (*1) Printing Tabulator of 1915. With a replaceable 'Connection-Box' it may as well count as programmable.

  • CTR's Hollerith Tabulator Type III (later IBM 091) of 1921 is eventually a better known example.

  • It's follow up, the 1928 Type IV (later IBM 301) finally featured a plugboard, like it became standard for the next decades, for programming.

Until that point printing of alphanumeric data was, if possible at all, restricted to interpreters. Standardization of alpha encoding as general feature was only done in the late 1920s - like with IBM's 80 column punch card.

  • IBM's 401 in turn merged alpha functionality in 1938.

*1 - Remington Rand eventually acquired Power in the late 1920s, becoming IBMs biggest rival. Much like it's spin off CDC some decades later :)

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  • Thanks for your insight, @Raffzahn! In my question I've meant only the electronic computers and only those that were designed only to print decimals, as the computer in the paper linked. So I've updated the question. – lvd Nov 26 '19 at 20:23
  • @lvd That makes it quite artificial, as even the earliest (electronic, stored program) computers used teletype like devices for printing (including as it seams the shown machine as it uses a standard T100) , being able to print letters as well. Thus it would degrade the question to software, wouldn't it? – Raffzahn Nov 26 '19 at 20:32
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    From the paper linked in the question: "Printing alphabetic characters was not possible, this problem in Soviet computers persisted for a long time." So the question arises basically from that citation. – lvd Nov 27 '19 at 11:33
  • I suppose that if the output instruction only sent 3 or 4 bits to the printer then it could be the case that the computer could only print numbers, despite the printer having a larger repertoire. The article shows a typewriter-like device with what looks like a full keyboard, so we can guess it can likely print alphabetics & co. It seems like a weird design choice to me, though - if you've got a typewriter then use it. 5-bit teleprinter code predates computers. – another-dave Nov 27 '19 at 22:30
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    Perhaps a German device has nothing that Russian readers would regard as actual (Cyrillic) letters :-) – another-dave Nov 28 '19 at 0:03

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