The father of the disk drive

Reynold B. Johnson

The inventor and computer pioneer Reynold B. Johnson, nicknamed the “father of the disk drive” in later years, was born on 16 July 1906 in Minnesota.

He conducted his higher education studies at the University of Minnesota, obtaining a degree in educational administration in 1929. He was a high school teacher in Michigan until 1933, when he lost his job, and started to work on a special electromechanical device, the test scoring machine, which automatically scored multiple-choice tests using a technology that converted cards with answers in pencil marks into punched cards. This technology was widely used from the 1940s to the 1960s.

This invention changed his life: it was quite a challenge to sell the rights to his invention, but eventually IBM bought them in 1934, then employed the inventor as an engineer to work in their Endicott laboratory in New York in 1937.

In 1952, IBM sent Johnson to San Jose in California to set up and manage their Western Coast Laboratory. In 1956, a research team led by Johnson developed a disk data storage technology (IBM 305 RAMAC) ? the first disk drive that marked the launch of a multibillion-dollar business and industry.

As a by-product of another project run in collaboration with Sony, Johnson developed the prototype for the half-inch video cassette tape with an educational “video textbook” for children.

Johnson worked for the information technology giant until he retired in 1971. He obtained more than 90 patents for his work in three and a half decades. After his retirement, he developed a new microphonograph technology.

He was awarded the National Medal of Technology by Ronald Reagan in 1986. Johnson died in Palo Alto in 1998.