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In 1975, my high school computer lab (Maryland USA) had 3 computing devices/terminals. One was a Teletype connected to an offsite mainframe via an acoustical modem. Our class assignments were on this. The other were programmable desktop computing devices, similar to the programmable calculators of the era, but these were desktop size. We referred to them as big momma and big daddy. None of the students knew how to program them, the teachers knew very little about them.

I breifly attempted to learn how to use big momma. It was about the size of an Apple II, but the keys were more like a programmable calculator. It had a thermal printer about 6 inches wide. It probably had an LED display, but I'm not sure. I believe that it was Japanese. I don't remember what I did, but I did manage to get it to print some Asian characters on the printer.

I can't remember much more, but if I saw big momma in a lineup I could probably pick it out.

Does anyone know the history of these types of calculators? They were probably very expensive, and obsolete when the HP-65 and TI-59 came out.

It was similar to this, but this isn't it:

enter image description here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOWtrO04NOk

Edit: No floppy. Large magnetic cards (sorry, this slipped my mind since I never used the cards). Probably did not have a QWERTY keyboard. Alpha chars were probably accessed via option/shift keys. It had little resemblence to a personal computer (although I had never seen a Personal Computer at the time).

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  • 1
    The photograph shows a Canola SX-100. Perhaps you are thinking of a Programma 101, which qualified as big. Aside: I was shocked when I ran into an HP-65 with cards. I tried shoving a card in and it grabbed it and fed it through! Nothing I had read mentioned that, along with everything else, HP had wedged in a motor and drive system.
    – HABO
    Oct 5, 2023 at 14:42
  • HP made electronic desktop "calculators." You can find some good pictures of them here: hpmuseum.org Oct 5, 2023 at 14:49
  • Olivetti made one google.com/… Oct 5, 2023 at 15:27
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    Wang Labs? vintagecalculators.com/html/wang.html Oct 5, 2023 at 16:19
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    @SolomonSlow - or any of a number of the other companies on that site. Must resist temptation to spend all day looking through them though...
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 5, 2023 at 17:03

1 Answer 1

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Hard to say (*1) as the early 1970s were the era of such devices - from calculators with multiple terminals like Wang offered, over machines like Olivetti's P101/P102 (and follow up 602/603/652/...), or HP's 91/98xx all the way to Machines like the Olivetti P6060 or IBM's 5100, which already resemble more modern desktop computers. And this list only scratches the surface throwing still well known names.


With the few fact given (*2) the first that pops up in my memory would be the Olivetti 6060 (*3):

enter image description here

(Picture taken from this very detailed dissection of a P6060)

The machine feature a LCD display as well as a thermal printer using 223 mm wide paper, the kind a decade later becoming synonymus with fax machines. This especially wide printer might be best criteria to differentiate from most other machines of that time.

Otherwise most remarkable were its floppy drive(s), making it the eventually fist desktop computer using them (*4). It not only predates IBM's entry (and most other) but was in addition internally a /360 derivative - although most users never left its powerful BASIC (*5).


*1 - For a less speculative answer it might need a bit more of description, like what other peripherals were there, build in or external, beside the Printer. Was it programmed using magnetic cards or did it already have floppy disks? Did it have a screen in addition to the LED line?

*2 - About 1975, a LED display and a 6 inch (~152 mm) wide printer.

*3 - It might be worth to switch for the Italian Wiki entry and use of google to get better information.

*4 - Even more as the contemporary IBM 5100, made by the inventor of the floppy still used a tape drive as storage. It wasn't until the later 5110 that IBM also provided floppies - except not build in but as a fridge sized box :)

*5 - Something often not present to most, BASIC wasn't the cheap language choice for 1980s home computers but the de facto standard language for professional computing all the way during the 1970 for everything smaller than a /360. No matter if Wang, DEC, HP, Olivetti or MAI. Even IBM had to offer it :)

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  • Thx, your answer brought out some more memories, I edited the question. Large magnetic cards! Definitely had a programmable calculator feel to it. I was learning how to program my father's HP-65 around this time. If big momma was more like a computer, I would have spent more time with it.
    – Mattman944
    Oct 5, 2023 at 21:13
  • Well, you might want to look thru the links provided - especially the Olivetti P6xx (and before that P101) as they all used quite large magnetic cards,, but their printers were small, like from classic printing calculators. The wide printer is the most unusual part here, as anything that wide is not only rare but as well rather useless on 'simple' calculator devices
    – Raffzahn
    Oct 5, 2023 at 21:18
  • I looked through all the links and didn't see anything that I recognized. The picture that I posted is still the closest to what I remember. I enjoyed looking through the various history links and now realize that it had to be Japanese, they were the only Asian country making advanced calculators at the time. Not only was it made in Japan, it was built for Japanese and western markets. It could print Japanese characters and seemed to be stuck in Japanese mode. Maybe it was a lesser known model that nobody has in their museum.
    – Mattman944
    Oct 6, 2023 at 8:10
  • @Mattman944 Producing some Asian characters only means the printer was made/capable to do so, not necessarily the computer.
    – Raffzahn
    Oct 6, 2023 at 8:48

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