IBM 704

An IBM 704 computer at NACA in 1957
An IBM 704 computer, with IBM 727 tape drives and IBM 780 CRT display. (Image courtesy of LLNL.)

The IBM 704, introduced by IBM in 1954, is the first mass-produced computer with floating-point arithmetic hardware.[1] The IBM 704 Manual of operation states:[2]

The type 704 Electronic Data-Processing Machine is a large-scale, high-speed electronic calculator controlled by an internally stored program of the single address type.

The 704 at that time was thus regarded as "pretty much the only computer that could handle complex math."[3] The 704 was a significant improvement over the earlier IBM 701 in terms of architecture and implementation. Like the 701, the 704 uses vacuum tube logic circuitry. Changes from the 701 include the use of core memory instead of Williams tubes and the addition of three index registers. To support these new features, the instructions were expanded to use the full 36-bit word. The new instruction set, which is not compatible with the 701, became the base for the "scientific architecture" subclass of the IBM 700/7000 series computers.

The 704 can execute up to 12,000 floating-point additions per second.[1] IBM sold 140 type 704 systems between 1955 and 1960.[4][5]


The programming languages FORTRAN[6] and LISP[7] were first developed for the 704, as was the SAP assembler—Symbolic Assembly Program, later distributed by SHARE as SHARE Assembly Program.

MUSIC, the first computer music program, was developed on the IBM 704 by Max Mathews.

In 1962 physicist John Larry Kelly, Jr created one of the most famous moments in the history of Bell Labs by using an IBM 704 computer to synthesize speech. Kelly's voice recorder synthesizer vocoder recreated the song Daisy Bell, with musical accompaniment from Max Mathews. Arthur C. Clarke was coincidentally visiting friend and colleague John Pierce at the Bell Labs Murray Hill facility at the time of this speech synthesis demonstration, and Clarke was so impressed that six years later he used it in the climactic scene of his novel and screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey,[8] where the HAL 9000 computer sings the same song.[9][contradictory]

Edward O. Thorp, a math instructor at MIT, used the IBM 704 as a research tool to investigate the probabilities of winning while developing his blackjack gaming theory.[10][11] He used FORTRAN to formulate the equations of his research model.

The IBM 704 at the MIT Computation Center was used as the official tracker for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Operation Moonwatch in the fall of 1957. IBM provided four staff scientists to aid Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory scientists and mathematicians in the calculation of satellite orbits: Dr. Giampiero Rossoni, Dr. John Greenstadt, Thomas Apple and Richard Hatch.

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