NIU’s exponential growth in the 1960s made every organizational process more complex – records administration, payroll, student and personnel records, research, partnerships and many other day-to-day activities were moving beyond the ability to keep track of things by hand.
NIU leased its first computer from IBM in 1962. The IBM model 1620 came with technicians to teach faculty and staff how to use it. The early mainframes were huge and required large, temperature-controlled rooms. The entire campus shared one computer, with various colleges and departments vying for time on the giant machine.
In 1967, NIU upgraded to the legendary IBM 360, a room-sized collection of whirring machines with giant tapes – prominently featured on the popular series “Mad Men.”
In addition to administrative functions, the 360 was heavily used by Math and Computer Science for computer language development, and by Biological Sciences, Geology and Political Science for a variety of research projects.
Computing power and its access became increasingly important for all facets of university operations – instruction, research and administration. By 1979 it was clear that NIU needed more computing power, but the IBM model that would have met university specifications could not be upgraded internally (and would require the construction of a new water-based cooling component.) Instead, NIU went with an IBM spin-off company and purchased the Amdahl 470.
With the increased power offered by the 470, NIU was able to improve many administrative computer functions, including enrollment, grades, and bursar and personnel functions. NIU’s first personal computer arrived in July of 1978: A Commodore PET with a cassette tape drive and featuring 4K RAM, a seven-inch momochrome CRT, and a five by seven-inch keyboard. It cost $711 new, and now resides in the NIU Archives.
Click on photos to enlarge