Honeywell Kitchen Computer and the Delights of Old Tech
by Bob Schwartz
Some people love old cars. Others of us delight in old digital tech.
We are not alone. The latest episode of Mad Men on AMC includes the installation of a computer at the agency. And the new AMC series Halt and Catch Fire is (coincidentally?) about the early days of personal computing. (Halt and Catch Fire is a real/apocryphal/funny code instruction that might send a computer into an endless loop, resulting in its ultimately stopping or bursting into flames.)
This is a page from the Neiman-Marcus Christmas 1969 catalog. The impeccably dressed N-M housewife is standing next to what appears to be an unusual table, but is actually the Honeywell Kitchen computer, which can be purchased for $10,000. (The apron will cost you another $28.) “If she can only cook as well as Honeywell can compute.” Indeed.
Here is something completely different from the era, prophetic rather than silly. It is Isaac Asimov, a science fiction great, advertising Radio Shack’s TRS-80.
Note that in the spirit of what goes around comes around, this is a pocket computer almost exactly the size of a smartphone—or is a smartphone a pocket computer exactly the size of a TRS-80? Either way, Neiman-Marcus and Honeywell were clueless, but Asimov and Radio Shack were not.
That would be a pretty good close for this post. Except that the following ad is irresistible, telling us something else about the early days of computing.
Just as cars were, and to some extent still are, sold by using sex, sometimes so were computers. This is an ad for a plotter, possibly the least sexy of all peripherals. The copy is mostly bone-dry and technical. But then there’s the trio of the model with her dress open to her navel, the headline “New, Fast, and Efficient!”, and the lead “The TSP-212 Plotting System is a real swinger.” $3,300 COMPLETE. Well, almost complete, as the model is presumably not included. But you know, that cool plotter just might attract one.
I know a lot if people who could use the kitchen computer
The TRS-80 Pocket Computer was introduced in 1980. That was 11 years after the Honeywell Kitchen Computer was listed in the Nieman Marcus catalog.
That doesn’t put them in the ‘same era’ for those of us who remember living through those years.
Just sayin’. :-D
Thanks for commenting, reading and paying close attention. Yes, I did say “same era.” I hadn’t thought about it, but I guess I see pre-digital, early digital and contemporary digital eras (I lived through them all) in the same broad evolutionary strokes as geologic or historical eras, with sometimes indistinct borders. In this case, it seems I lumped the Honeywell Kitchen Computer (still an awesome premature concept) and the TRS-80 (still an important link in the chain) of coming from roughly the early digital. For the sake of clarity and precision, I should have included the year of the TRS-80. Come to think of it (just riffing here), how about pairing up Asimov with the Honeywell homemaker? Thanks again.