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Guide to the Collection of Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-1 Computer Materials
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance
  • Biography / Administrative History
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Material
  • Separated Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Collection of Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-1 Computer Materials
    Dates: 1960-1983
    Bulk Dates: 1960-1976
    Collection number: X3602.2006
    Collection Size: 9 linear feet 8 boxes
    Repository: Computer History Museum
    Mountain View, CA 94043
    Abstract: The Collection of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) PDP-1 Computer Materials is comprised of program listings, manuals, technical papers, promotional materials, design drawings and photographs regarding the PDP-1 digital computer spanning 1959 to 1983.
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    The Computer History Museum can only claim physical ownership of the collection. Users are responsible for satisfying any claims of the copyright holder. Permission to copy or publish any portion of the Computer History Museum's collection must be given by the Computer History Museum.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of Item], [Item Date], Collection of Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-1 Computer Materials, Lot X3602.2006, Box [#], Folder [#], Computer History Museum


    The provenance is unknown for the Collection of DEC PDP-1 Computer Materials and most likely came from a variety of different sources. The nucleus of the collection was originally acquired in the 1980s and 1990s when the Computer History Museum was then known as the Computer Museum, located in Boston. The Collection is a portion of the larger artificial Company Collection. Gwen Bell, the Computer Museum's first curator arranged documents by originating institution or company. In 2005 and 2006 all the PDP-1 materials shelved as part of the "Company Collection" were given the found in collection lot number of X3602.2006 and processed.

    Biography / Administrative History

    In 1960 Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) launched its first computer, the PDP-1 (Programmed Data Processor-1). The computer cost $120,000.00, and was 8 feet by 2 feet by 6 feet in size. The computer was designed in three and a half months by Ben Gurley. He based his system on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory TX-0 and TX-2 computers and used DEC's initial product, a series of interconnectable circuits known as "Laboratory Modules," to create the PDP-1.
    The PDP-1 was the world's first commercial interactive computer, and was used for process control, scientific research, and graphics applications, as well as to pioneer timesharing systems. The PDP-1 also made it possible for smaller businesses and laboratories to have access to much more computing power than ever before.
    Though the PDP-1 was produced in relatively small quantities (just over 50) its impact was significant. For DEC, it was the first in a long line of computers that focused on interactivity and affordability. For the user, the PDP-1 represented an unprecedented freedom of human-machine interaction, spurring the creation of hacker culture at MIT, Bolt Baranek and Newman (BBN) and elsewhere. Inspired programmers created early debugging, text editing, music and game programs - including the first computer video game, Spacewar!

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Collection of Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-1 Computer Materials is composed of program listings, manuals, technical papers, memorandums, promotional materials, logbooks, specifications, design drawings, photographs and paper tape [software] spanning 1959 to 1976. The records are divided into eight series and total 9 linear feet, in six record cartons, one manuscript box, and one oversized box. All series are arranged alphabetically by folder title.
    The first series, Program Listings, date from 1961 to 1976. Included in this series is the program listing for Spacewar!, one of the earliest, if not the earliest video game, for digital computers. The large group of program listings includes debugging programs, administrative routines, and test programs.
    The second series, Technical Notes, date from 1959 to 1975. This series contains technical programming notes to all types of programs from Invisible Debugger to Expensive Typewriter. Contained in this series are technical notes for the PDP-1 by the Digital Equipment Corporation Users Society (DECUS), BBN, DEC, Itek Laboratories, and MIT.
    The third series is Manuals, 1960 to 1967. The manuals cover hardware and programming topics. This series contains manuals that focus on specific components as well as ones that cover basic instructions and maintenance for the PDP-1. Included is an early Programmed Data Processor-1 Handbook (1963).
    The fourth series is Miscellaneous, 1960 to 1965. Contained in this series are a small number of interoffice memoranda and promotional materials. Also included is a 1963 option and price list. Of interest is an oral history transcript of Richard Best, an engineer who worked at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory and then at Digital Equipment Corporation.
    The fifth series Specifications, is a small quantity of specifications dating from 1961 to 1973. These include cable schedules, component lists, component diagrams, and wiring schematics.
    The sixth series is Logbooks/ Records. This series consists of logbooks, 1962 to 1976, for the PDP-1 computers at the MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics. Information recorded here describes the programs that were run, maintenance issues, and failures. Also included is an undated maintenance log on loose paper.
    The seventh series is Design Drawings, 1959 to 1968. These are oversized schematics of the PDP-1.
    • Series 1. Program listings (1961 - 1976)
    • Series 2. Technical Notes (1959 - 1975)
    • Series 3. Manuals (1960 - 1967)
    • Series 4. Miscellaneous (1960 - 1965)
    • Series 5. Specifications (1961 - 1973)
    • Series 6. Log Books/ Records (1962 - 1984)
    • Series 7. Design drawings (oversized drawings) (1959 - 1968)

    Indexing Terms

    Computer science. Computer architecture and design
    Digital Equipment Corporation
    Digital Equipment Computer Users Society
    Electronic digital computers programmed instruction
    Electronic digital computers
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
    PDP computers
    Spacewar computer game
    Time-sharing computer systems

    Related Material

    Harlan Anderson papers, X3575.2006.
    DEC corporate records, X2675.2004.
    PDP-1 Restoration online exhibit: http://www.computerhistory.org/pdp-1/
    Other related research documents, software, still and moving images, and physical objects, can be found in the CHM collections database at http://www.computerhistory.org/search/. Use the following keywords to find these related materials in the collection:
    • PDP-1
    • Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)
    • Digital Computer Corporation (DCC)
    • Digital Equipment Computer Users Society (DECUS)
    • Spacewar

    Separated Material

    Photographs were removed from the collection. There were over 75 original photographs covering, 1960 to 1983, of the PDP-1 Computer taken of the computer in use or for marketing purposes. To view the photographs go to the CHM website at http://archive.computerhistory.org/search/ .
    Paper tapes were removed from the collection. There are 388 catalog records of various software programs punched on paper tape for the PDP-1. The cataloging was done by transcribing what was written on the paper tape and not by machine reading it to verify the actual content of the tapes. To view the paper tape catalog records go to the CHM website at http://archive.computerhistory.org/search.