Selling IBM mainframes in 1979—the colors! The outfits!

A machine with half a meg of memory cost $62,500... but it supported multiple concurrent users.

[4331 promo picture]

Raymond Frohlich, an artist and master’s candidate at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, has posted scanned pictures of a 1979 marketing publication for the IBM 4331, a low-end mainframe of the time (part 1, part 2).

BoingBoing and others who’ve notice it clearly love the retro hair and outfits of the models as much as the retro price/performance ratio, but I looked a little more into the 4331. A Google search found a 4331 schwag Rubik’s cube (did I mention the retro seventies appeal?) and an IBM historical archive entry on the computer. It’s too bad the illustration there is in black and white; full-color renditions of the minimalist seventies office artwork on the wall would add much to the picture.

The existence of these IBM archives for me was a real find. It has a lot of fascinating material, such as audio recordings of Thomas Watson Jr. from 1993 and 1938 and one from his father in 1915, and a 1931 recording of employees singing the song “Ever Onward IBM” in 1931, all on the multimedia page. There’s a 100-page FAQ (pdf) with questions like “What was the IBM 46?” and “What was the IBM 47?” (Apparently the question “What was the IBM 4331?” is not frequently asked.) Did you know that before Watson Sr. streamlined the business, they also made clocks, including one that would probably be considered an art deco masterpiece today (pdf)? I especially love the Mainframes photo album and the color-coding of some of the big systems—would you prefer your mainframe in yellow, red, or blue?

To set a period mood while looking at Frohlich’s pictures, I suggest that you put on Armed Forces, Elvis Costello’s 1979 album, and remember that two albums earlier he was recording “Watching the Detectives” and “Alison” at night and doing mainframe data entry by day.


By Len Fischer on February 14, 2006 3:06 AM

I don’t know if this was added after your blog entry but there is a What was the IBM 4331 entry on page 57 of the IBM history faq.pdf.

By Merideth Carleton on April 9, 2006 12:03 AM

Have you seen this before? It’s a number guessing game: I guessed 34355, and it got it right! Pretty neat.