New Images of the R1 Computer



They’re not new of course, just new to me. They were very kindly sent in by reader Bill Harris, ’71, who has this to say about them:

They are scanned from 8x10s, probably taken in the 1969-71 time
frame–most likely in 1970 or ’71.  I picked some, and [the photographer] added a couple
he couldn’t resist . Circuitry1, circuitry2, and circuitry3 are probably images from the arithmetic unit (front rack), the logic unit (second rack), and one other that caught our attention for some reason, but I can no longer recall.




Mr. Harris also noted that, happily, we can credit the photographer: To be fair, you might want to mention that Bob Roosth, WRC ’71, took the pictures–most of what I selected, but, as I recall, as a photographer he couldn’t resist the closeup of the tape.  He was a photographer for the Thresher and Campanile, and I think he was also the photographer for Penelope Johnson’s Campanile photo in the late 1960s.

Some of these pictures make more sense to me than the circuitry images above. I know a tape drive when I see one:



And a printer:


But I have no idea what this is all about:


Once again I find myself in debt to a reader who made the effort to preserve a piece of this university’s history. I’m extremely grateful.

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20 Responses to New Images of the R1 Computer

  1. Wendy Kilpatrick Laubach '78 says:

    I spent many hours as a child playing with the big rolls of black paper tape, usually unspooling them by holding one end and dropping the rest over the upstairs stairway railing. (These were waste rolls, of course.) There was also a big trashcan full of the little chads punched out of the tapes, which was a lot like confetti, or quicksand, and great fun to play with. There was a coffee machine over in one corner; for 5 cents you could make a cup with as much sugar and cream as you liked. I don’t recall ever daring to touch the electronic equipment.

  2. Dagobert L. Brito says:

    I bet you will not post Penny Johnson’s photo.

  3. Keith Cooper says:

    R1 or R2 ?

  4. The first photo seems to have two generations of consoles, a teletype style and an IBM Selectric. That might narrow the date down a lot.

    Nice photos. Well done, from a former Thresher photo editor.

    • grungy1973 says:

      The left-most keyboard was returned to Abercrombie some years ago, from my archives. I’d gotten it from Mark Linimon, I believe.
      While it was externally an ordinary typewriter, it had been wired internally to communicate with something, with a thick bundle of wires protruding from the back of the case.

  5. Oh, the connections in all of this stuff. Take a look at the first photo, and just to the left end of the older teleprinter you see a black rectangular panel with two rows of mostly white pushbuttons.

    Now look at the first photo in the post at and look immediately to the right of the turntable.

    Yes, it is the same button panel, repurposed as the “Punch Patch” in KTRU. I know it made it to the second set of studios, but no idea where it went after that. Nothing went unscrounged back in those days.

    • At one end of the Punch Patch, there was an empty indicator lamp socket and a small toggle switch next to it that was not connected to anything. One night when I was bored during a transmitter test, I labeled the switch “RLH Condition Test” and labeled the lamp “RLH Condition Confirmed” or something very similar; If you flipped the switch and the lamp came on, you had an RLH condition. Since there was no bulb or wiring, if the lamp lit up, you better Run Like Hell=RLH. That is the kind of humor you get at 3 am.

  6. Bill Harris says:

    Thanks for getting these into the world, Melissa.

    As for the last image, look up Bessel function (e.g., Then get a drink of water at one of these fountains that burps up an air bubble every once in a while.

    Then label it as the official (or at least labeled) USAEC Bessel Function Generator.

  7. Mark Williamson says:

    The final picture is also a multi-level example of Rice humor. I assume we all recognize the basic item as a water jug atop a water cooler.
    Reading top to bottom and left to right:
    * USAEC = United States Atomic Energy Commission, the initial funder of TRIC (The Rice Institute Computer, later R1) to support the research of Zevi Salsburg (among others).
    * Bessel function generator — When water is removed from the jug, air bubbles come in to make up the volume, making ripples out from the center. The shape of the ripples considered along a radius of the jug approximate the curve of a Bessel function [].
    * The water is Silver Seal brand, with an appropriate symbol (corporate sense of humor?).
    * This water was apparently purified through distillation, which somebody thought ought to have produced gin.

    Sadly, humor loses a lot when you try to explain it.

  8. Mark Williamson says:

    Oh, and if Bob took it while he was a student, it must be the R1 (not that I had any doubt from the pictures).

  9. Sigsby Rusk says:

    The pictures of the electronic racks show things as they existed from about 1964 to about 1969. In the first picture the IBM Selectric typewriter had been modified to allow us to type values (in octal notation – bytes had not yet been invented) into the principal arithmetic registers, and also to type out the current values of those registers. This was for debugging purposes only. For several years I thought the tape drives were my nemesis since I had designed the read/write circuitry and the interface to the R1. The signals from the tape always looked clean and steady but the data that reached the R1 often had intermittent errors, enough to keep the tapes from being very useful. Years later just before we took the R1 down I discovered a chassis near the floor which had about 30 wires (installed by a geophysical company in 1959) which had never been solder to the sockets on that chassis. they were directly in the path of the tape drives and easily explained the intermittent trouble. Such was life in those days when so many thousands of connections had to be made by hand.
    The water bottle was an important fixture in those days because there was not a water fountain anywhere near the computer room. For all the early years the bottle had no label. We all took turns rolling it down the hall to a janitors closet which had a sink and water faucet, then rolling it back to sit above the cooler. Several of us thought our job description should be modified to include that duty.

  10. Pingback: "Each computer run would last 1,000-2,000 hours, and, because we didn't really trust a program that ran so long, we ran it twice, and it verified that the results matched. I'm not sure I ever was present when a run finished." - Statist

  11. Pingback: “Each computer run would last 1,000-2,000 hours, and, because we didn’t honestly trust a program that ran so long, we ran it twice, and it verified that the results matched. I’m not sure I ever was present when a run finished.” – News Puddle

  12. Pingback: “Each computer run would last 1,000-2,000 hours,” An R1 Mystery | Rice History Corner

  13. Sigsby Rusk says:

    Thanks to Bill Harris for the pictures, as I did not have those in my collection. The images
    named circuitry1 through circuitry3 are actually pictures of instruction decoding and sequencing logic in the rack in front of the console. I can’t recall that any of the R1 staff had a camera in the 1960’s, much to my regret.

  14. Bill Harris says:

    I just saw your last note. I sent Melissa a few more pictures that didn’t get posted, I think, and I once found them on the Woodson site as R1 pictures taken by Bob Roosth and donated by me. I can’t find them now, so I must have forgotten the recipe, but perhaps you know how to do that search, or Melissa can educate us.

  15. Sigsby Rusk says:

    If the pictures were once on the Woodson site I must have seen them. I met with Melissa a couple of weeks ago but we weren’t discussing the R1.

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