Computer History Museum – Exhibits – Collection Highlights — One of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. That said I think someone missed out on a patent here somewhere.

The IBM 1403 printer was noisy, but it could also be musical! Clever engineers figured out what line of characters to print to make a noise at a given pitch, and how many times to print that line repeatedly to sustain that pitch for a given duration. In other words, the printer could play musical notes.

All that was needed was a program for the IBM 1401 computer system that read in a deck of punched cards, each card containing a single note of melody, and then played the melody on the printer. The tempo could be adjusted using the sense switches on the computer console.

The songs here are from a performance recorded in about 1970 in the computer room of the Richmond (California) Unified School District. The computer operators (whose voices can be heard on the original tape recording) made the recording by holding the microphone in front of the printer.

Here’s Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head via line printer.



  1. Ed Campbell says:

    Fits right in with some of the old Mazda commercials — and someone more recently who, fortunately, I can’t even remember.

  2. Luís Camacho says:

    LOL Can it play Hellsing OST? X-D

  3. Mike T says:

    Now come on, you have to admit…that takes some thinking. Engineers — I love — and not just because I are one.

    Mike T

  4. Dick Eastman says:

    Ah, those were the days! I wish I had taken a tape recorder with me into the computer rooms in those days. We used to play those songs often, especially on third shift.

    Printers today are so… so…. mundane.


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