There are two machines that I'd love to have. This is one of
them. This and the Diehl machine came out about the same time
but most believe this to be the first programmable
calculator. Programs could be stored on magnetic cards.
I've always wondered if one could just take tape recorder
tape and glue it to some cards to work with these. The
original cards are real hard to find.
The Diehl had an optional paper read/punch.
The Programma 101 was not the first progrmmable calculator, though in
popular culture, it is considered to be the first. Actually, the first
programmable stored-program calculator was the Mathatronics Mathatron
4-24 and 8-48 calculators. These were introduced and sold before the
Olivetti machine came to market.
The Diehl Combitron (and the SCM equivalent, OEM'd from Diehl) were
amazing machines. The Combitron was invented by Stanley Frankel, one of
the physicists on the Manhattan Project, and also the designer of the
SCM Cogito 240 electronic calculator, as well as the Royal McBee LGP-30
"mini computer" (and a few other small computers). The Combitron was a
microcoded architecture (the first microcoded electronic calculator),
and loaded its microcode from a punched metal tape that encoded the
microcode. The tape had two channels, one channel provided clocking,
and the other channel coded 0's and 1's for the microcode load, which
was read into a magnetostrictive delay like, and controlled the
operation of the machine. Another magnetostrictive delay line contained
the working registers of the machine. It was quite an elegant design. I
have been in communication with Stanley Frankel's son, who has vivid
memories of helping his Dad working on building the prototype of the
Combitron in their home. They made visits to Germany to the Diehl plant
to build a second, improved prototype, which Diehl then used as the
basis for the building the production Combitron.
The Programma 101 had a distinction of being the first calculator to
have a simple and efficient built-in magnetic card storage device that
allowed reading in programs and data, and writing them back out again.
The Mathatron did not have a means for "offline" storage of programs,
although it did use magnetic core memory for program storage, so
programs would be retained during powered-off time. However, anytime a
new program was desired, it would have to be entered by hand through
"Learn Mode" program entry.
The Combitron did provide ability to attach an external punched paper
tape reader/punch which could be used to punch out programs on tape for
later re-reading into the calculator (the delay line memories were
volatile, meaning the content would be lost when the calculator was
powered off), and could also be used to load data into programs
automatically, as well as punch out the results of calculations. The
Combitron was a great "front end" machine to small and medium-sized
computer systems, where data could be pre-processed on the Combitron,
then intermediate resulst punched onto tape, for input to a large
computer for final data analysis.
All of these machines are wonderful examples of the ingenuity and
creativity of the early designs used in early electronic calculators.
The Old Calculator Museum