OSU’s history with computers began in 1951, when the university acquired an IBM ‘Brain.’ This 2,400-pound computer, intended to teach students the function of machines, could read, interpret, accumulate, and total figures.

Installation of IBM ‘Brain,’ 1951

As the times evolved, so too did the type of machines OSU acquired. One year after the acquisition of the ‘Brain,’ the Department of Electrical Engineering purchased the Reeves Electronic Analog Computer, the first all-purpose electronic computer made for general lab use. Then in 1956, OSU installed the IBM Type 650, the first mass-produced computer, which would bring advanced computing technology to central Ohio. The IBM type 650 gave researchers in central Ohio an option to do research with a computer nearby instead of needing to travel to somewhere like Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton.

The next major development in computing technology arrived in 1965, when Ohio State acquired a GE 636 computer. This system would allow other Ohio colleges to use it by dialing in over long-distance phone lines, and it also came with GE Datanet-760 display terminals—television screens that make visible the inner workings of the computer. Professors used these screens to run problems on the computer while showing students how the computers solved them in order to further enhance their knowledge of how computers solve problems.

The IBM 650 in use, 1956

The quick advancement of computer technology brings with it a diversification of the ways in which the University uses it. In 1956, computers were first used to compute GPAs; then in 1964, diplomas were no longer hand-signed by the president and were instead signed by computer. About a year later, Ohio State implemented a new computerized elevator system that took the place of the elevator boy and was also able to measure weight. The same year, OSU began to develop a network that would allow the university to connect to eleven other Midwestern schools including the University of Chicago, the University of Minnesota and the University of Michigan.

In June 1980, the Office of Student Financial Aid became the first administrative department to make consistent use of online computer programs to speed up processes and allow them to help students more effectively. Five years later, the Union opened a computer lab for student use and found that most students were primarily interested in using the new word processors to speed up the process of writing their papers.

Student using computer, 1975

In 1986 came the implementation of SONNET (System of Neighboring Networks), a campus-wide system that linked all OSU computers to the same network. This network facilitated e-mail communication between departments and colleges and served to integrate different types of computers into one cohesive system. The major hubs for SONNET were located in the telecommunications Network Center, Baker Systems Engineering, Kottman Hall, the Fawcett Center, Bevis Hall, and the Kinnear Road Center. This system revolutionized communication across campus with its state-of-the-art copper wiring and fiber optics network, and it helped everyone on campus begin to rely on computers as a new mode of communication.

Written by Hannah Nelson.