Swansea University's IBM 1620

Swansea University’s First Computer: An IBM 1620

In November 1961, the Principal of the University College of Swansea, John H Parry (1914-1982), proposed to the Finance and General Purpose Committee that the College purchase its first Electronic Digital Computer, an IBM 1620. The choice of the machine was the recommendation of a committee of interested professors, including Professor James G Oldroyd (1921-1982), Professor of Applied Mathematics, known for the Oldroyd B model of the viscoelastic of non-Newtonian fluids. J H Parry was Principal 1960-65. J G Oldroyd was Professor 1953-65.

The University Grants Committee had offered Swansea a grant of £12,500 towards the cost of purchasing a computer. The IBM 1620 was purchased, with punched card equipment, at a cost of £22, 120 (leaving the College to find £9620).

The IBM 1620 was produced between 1959-1970. It was promoted as a scientific computer, having 1620 Symbolic Programming System and Fortran, and was bought by many Universities in the USA, UK and elsewhere. Some 2000 machines were made.

The first model was modest. The 1620 had the code name CADET (Computer with ADvanced Economic Technology), which was reinterpreted as “Can't Add, Doesn't Even Try”, since it used tables in memory rather than dedicated arithmetic circuitry. A Model II, with improved arithmetic capability, was released in 1963.

A technical description of the IBM 1620, with further references, can be found here.

IBM 1620 purchase proposal retyped

Colin Evans’ reflections on programming Swansea’s IBM 1620

The front panel of Swansea’s IBM 1620 survives and is exhibited along with: some of its logic; a newspaper photograph of the use of the 1620 demonstrating newspaper typesetting; and a textbook devoted to learning how to program the 1620.