Skip to main content
Icons of Progress

Magnetic Tape Storage

No product, idea, or achievement is possible without our most critical asset—the collective thought capital of hundreds of thousands of IBMers. The expertise, technical skill, willingness to take risk and overall dedication of IBM employees have led to countless transformative innovations through the years. Meet team members who contributed to this Icon of Progress.

  • Thomas J. Watson Jr.

    Thomas J. Watson

    Thomas Watson Jr. was executive vice president in 1949, when he first realized the potential of magnetic recording as a result of his experience with electronics in the US Army Air Corps during World War II. He and a number of the company's top engineers and scientists decided that the gamble of moving to magnetic tape had to be taken. According to one IBM Fellow, Nathaniel Rochester, Watson Jr. “went all around the room asking people if [moving to magnetic tape] was the right thing to do or not. ... And some people said ‘yes’ and some people said other things. Then he told all those people who said other things that maybe it was time they work on other problems.” He directed the IBM engineering and research organization to develop what became the IBM 701 Electronic Data Processing System, and his early recognition of the need for mass-produced electronic computers accelerated the development of the 701. Watson became president of IBM in January 1952, the same year the company announced the 701, which featured the first magnetic tape storage system.

  • James Weidenhammer 

    James Weidenhammer earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He joined IBM in June 1938 as a development engineer in the Endicott Laboratory. In 1949, he transferred to Poughkeepsie, NY, where he was responsible for the design and development of the magnetic tape mechanical motion system used in the IBM 701. He also was responsible for the electromechanical features of the entire tape frame design. As he searched for ways to speed the start-stop motion of the tape, he and his team tried many options. Through these experiments, he and Walter Buslik developed the vacuum column, for which they received a patent. Their vacuum column made it possible for the magnetic tape drive to work.

  • Walter S. Buslik 

    Walter Buslik joined IBM in October 1949. A project engineer, he was responsible for the design, construction and testing of the tape transport unit. Largely through his efforts, the unit's fine performance was assured, and largely through his ingenuity, the unit was a reliable and simple mechanism. Buslik received a patent, together with James Weidenhammer, for the magnetic tape drive vacuum column.

  • Nathaniel Rochester 

    Nathaniel Rochester

    Nathaniel Rochester joined IBM in November 1948 as an associate engineer. He coordinated the work of the Poughkeepsie, NY, Engineering Planning Group, and in cooperation with the Planning Group from the Applied Science Division, he developed firm specifications for the IBM 701. He developed outstanding planning and system specifications, including arithmetic functions and logical operations, for the design of the machine. Rochester's ability to prepare programs and test these programs on paper saved much valuable time. He led the effort to prepare utility sub-programs to facilitate the use of the IBM 701 by IBM and its clients. He was named an IBM Fellow in 1967.

  • Byron E. Phelps 

    Byron Phelps earned an electrical engineering degree from Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1935. He was the project leader of the recording engineering team, and he developed a new code he named NRZI, a form of non-return-to-zero encoding. This code is still used today because it provides a good compromise between the transitions per bit and the data clocking needs.

  • Wayne D. Winger 

    Wayne Winger joined IBM in 1950 after earning his master's degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University in Hammond, Indiana. Winger helped develop electrical circuits for IBM's first tape drive, and later managed the development of the IBM 1620.

  • Vic Witt 

    Vic Witt joined IBM in 1951, and started working on the magnetic tape project at that time. As he recalls, “There were no tape experts at that time. They handed me a piece of tape and said, ‘You have to know everything there is to know about this stuff.’ It was quarter-inch, and we were going to use half-inch, but this was all we had then.” Witt was responsible for analyzing the magnetic tape materials and finding ways to improve the quality of it. To accomplish this task, he worked closely with tape suppliers, including Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M) throughout the 1950s to improve tape quality. This helped facilitate the dramatic increases in reliability and data density of magnetic tape. Witt was an IBM Fellow, retiring in 1980.