IBM retires 7030 “STRETCH” computer, June 21, 1981

-June 21, 2017

On June 21, 1981, IBM retired its “STRETCH” 7030 computer, a machine considered a failure by some but that brought about tremendous innovation.

The 7030 premiered in 1961 performing at speeds approximately 30 times faster than the most advanced computer in the world at that time. Unfortunately, even with such advances, the 7030 did not meet promises made by IBM.

Big Blue aggressively estimated speeds “at least 100 times greater than that of existing machines" in its proposal for the government funding that allowed the 7030 to be built. It was, indeed, going to be a “stretch” of IBM’s collected intellectual capacity and thus the machine’s nickname was born. 

With speeds lower than anticipated, IBM brought down the price on the 7030 from $13.5 million to $7.8 million. At the lower price, IBM was losing money on each build. Only eight units were sold. Although the 7030 failed to meet its goals, it did remain the world’s fastest computer until the first CDC 6600 became operational in 1964.

The 7030 further brought about many technologies incorporated in future machines that were highly successful, including the 8-bit character called a "byte" and many technologies still used in current high-performance systems.

Indeed, reports state that Stephen Dunwell, the project manager who faced blame when STRETCH failed commercially, pointed out soon after the successful 1964 launch of IBM’s System/360 that most of its core concepts were pioneered by the 7030.  Based on the 7030’s groundwork as well as other accomplishments, Dunwell was named an IBM Fellow. He provides an oral history of the project here.

See this IBM page to read the original press fact sheet on the 7030.

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Editor's note: This article was originally posted on June 21, 2012, and edited on June 21, 2017.

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