If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It: Ancient Computers in Use Today

Last fall, I attended the Computer History Museum’s exhibition of the IBM 1401 and peripherals, including the IBM 026 punch card machine.

Back in 2012, PC World wrote a feature about ancient computers still in use, including a company in Texas that’s been using the related IBM 029 to enter data into their accounting system.

Sparkler Filters of Conroe, Texas, prides itself on being a leader in the world of chemical process filtration. If you buy an automatic nutsche filter from them, though, they’ll enter your transaction on a “computer” that dates from 1948.

Sparkler’s IBM 402 is not a traditional computer, but an automated electromechanical tabulator that can be programmed (or more accurately, wired) to print out certain results based on values encoded into stacks of 80-column Hollerith-type punched cards….

Of course, before the data goes into the 402, it must first be encoded into stacks of cards. A large IBM 029 key-punch machine–which resembles a monstrous typewriter built into a desk–handles that task.

Carl Kracklauer, whose father founded Sparkler Filters in 1927, usually types the data onto the punch cards. The company sticks with the 402 because it’s a known entity: Staffers know how to use it, and they have over 60 years of company accounting records formatted for the device.

Pretty incredible such an old machine is still in active use (or was, a few years ago).