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.

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    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
    Commented Nov 27, 2019 at 15:24
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    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.
    – dave
    Commented Nov 27, 2019 at 22:55
  • If a computer is a computer (aka something which computes) then you don’t necessarily need alpha characters.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 5:01

2 Answers 2


Simply 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 probably a better known example.

  • Its 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 IBM's biggest rival. Much like its spin off CDC some decades later :)

  • 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
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 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
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 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
    Commented Nov 27, 2019 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.
    – dave
    Commented Nov 27, 2019 at 22:30
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    Perhaps a German device has nothing that Russian readers would regard as actual (Cyrillic) letters :-)
    – dave
    Commented Nov 28, 2019 at 0:03

By extending the common understanding of "computer" and "printing" to programmable pocket calculators and their displays:

The Texas Instruments TI57, TI58, and TI59 had just seven segment LED displays. These can only display decimal digits or blank.

BTW, their programs are built from the "scan codes" of the keys, which are numerical.

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    I don't think anyone who reads the question will think the OP meant calculators too. The common understanding is fine without an extension. One could extend it to mean lots of equipment with embedded CPUs and numeric displays and not address the OPs question.
    – TonyM
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 9:25
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    @TonyM So you limit the term "computer" to machines that we call today "personal computer" and/or "mainframe"? Is something like "embedded" computers as the AGC also excluded? Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 9:44
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    I didn't outline my definitions, so you're guessing there. I referred to the question. As said, I don't think anyone who reads the question will think the OP meant calculators too.
    – TonyM
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 10:20
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    Some early "computers" are closer to programmable calculators than a mainframe or PC in functionality.... Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 21:07

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