Have you ever wondered how computers can store so much information? Games, pictures, and apps all need a lot of memory to work well. In the past, as information processing became more complex, data storage needed to be better and faster. When engineers first developed computers, they stored data on magnetic tapes, punch cards, and drums. They housed data storage in protected, clean rooms away from the computers. Imagine if today’s smartphones, tablets, and laptops couldn’t store their own data!
Many refer to engineer Reynold B. Johnson as “the father of the hard drive.” Johnson was born on July 16, 1906. He got a college degree in education administration. He taught math and science in his early career. When the Great Depression hit, Johnson lost his teaching job. During his time without work, he developed a device that automatically checked pencil-marked multiple-choice tests. In 1933, he tried to sell his invention to IBM. At first, they turned him away.
A year later, IBM offered Johnson an engineering job. The company decided that Johnson and his invention both had a bright future. For years, he worked at inventing for the company. In the 1950s, they put him in charge of a team. IBM moved Johnson to California to be head of a new laboratory. It gave his group the job of improving data storage. Known data storage technology was very slow to search for information. The team studied experiments on magnetic storage disks.
The first hard drive stored fewer than ten megabytes of data and weighed a ton. The IBM 350 Random Access Method of Accounting and Control (RAMAC) computer debuted in 1955 with the IBM 350 Disk Storage inside. By 1956, they sold 1,000 units—mostly for military and large business use. The drive used rotating magnetic disks and cut search time down to about one second. RAMAC had 5,000,000 characters and 50 storage disks that revolved 1,200 times a minute.
Hard drives today are still based on Johnson’s design idea. Technology continues to grow and improve. Today’s hard drives can store as much as 20 terabytes!
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan gave Johnson the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. He earned it for his work in computer science. He also received credit for helping to create over 100,000 jobs.
He earned other awards, too. The National Academy of Engineering admitted him in 1981. In 1987, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), gave him the Computer Pioneer Award. The IEEE also named an award for Johnson.
Johnson worked for IBM until 1971. He received patents for about 90 inventions. After he retired, he formed Education Engineering Associates. Here, besides his earlier work, he invented micro-phonography. This technology made it possible to have books read words and play sounds. Toy company Fisher-Price bought the idea to use in its Talk to Me books. He also helped Sony invent video tape recording which led to the videocassette recorder (VCR). Johnson passed away in 1998 at 92.