Objects in the Red Room

By Charlotte Wipp

The Red Room Throughout the Years

To create a diorama of the Red Room I collected many images that could make my model as accurate as possible. One thing I noticed as I continued to find images was that the room's layout would often change by year as the machines were being updated and switched out. Below are photos of different layouts and machines present in the Red Room from 1967 to 1989. Additionally, some machines existed for longer in the room than others, such as the Central Processing Units like the System/360 and System/370. Below are some of the photos that I gathered for my research and more information on some consoles and devices in the room.

Most of the photos were provided by the University of Waterloo Library Special Collections & Archives.

IBM Control Units

IBM System/370 158

Within the model the System/370 158 is 2 cm wide. 

The System/370 is a successor of the System/360, introduced by IBM in 1970. The Model 158 was the first model to contain semiconductor main memory, allowing data to be accessed efficiently in any order.

IBM System/360 75

In 1967 Waterloo installed the IBM System/360 75 to increase the job capacity for education, research, and University administration. At the time, the System/360 75 was the most powerful computer in Canada and was bought under the guise of being ‘furniture’ to subsidize the cost.

The 75 initially held 1MB of RAM (ultimately grew to 12MB), and contained a single CPU which ran at 1.3 Mhz. The compiler ran within the Red Room on the program WATFOR and later WATFIV. The Waterloo originating programs were based on Fortran and written for the System/360.  

IBM System/360 44

The IBM System/360 Model 44 is apart of the System/360 family, released by IBM in 1965. The system is designed for scientific computing, process control, numerical control, and real-time operations. At the University, the 44 was best know for providing an interactive APL system. 

IBM Tape Drives

An issue that I ran into for recreating the Red Room was that the tape drive models would change from year to year. I settled on putting IBM models 2401 and 2420 into the diorama, although from the photos there were many more throughout the lifetime of the room. 

Tape drives were used to store data on magnetic tape (usually 7-track or later 9-track reels). The device could both read and write data onto the large reels of tape, the 2420 at 200 inches per second. The tape would wind through a vacuum column system that could keep the tape at a uniform tension while processing it quickly and precisely. Within the vacuum columns were sensors that allowed full control over the tape speed, and could reverse the tape to the desired location when needed. 

Magnetic Disk Drive

Magnetic disk drives existed as a storage component for computer systems. The drives contain platters that the systems can be read and write to.

Introduced in 1965, the IBM 2314 accompanied the System/360 and System/370. A single disk pack contained eleven 14" platters, the 2314 had 20 recording surfaces with 200 tracks each storing 7294 bytes per track. Two 360/370 channels could be accessed at once with the device's eight drives that could be pulled out like "Pizza Ovens". A control unit could be added to allow two System/360 channels to access two disk drive systems at once. 

Mysteries in the Red Room 1973

While studying this photo in particular to make the diorama, there were a few object I could not identify. Luckily I did not have to make multiple renditions of the Red Room throughout the years, as that would further increase the unknowns. 

If you have any idea what any of these particular objects are, we would love to know!

About the author

Charlotte is a Physics and Astronomy student currently in her 2B term at Waterloo. She enjoys tinkering and creating all forms of art in her free time. She works at the Computer Museum as their current Winter 2024 coop student.