Honeywell is best known for pioneering the field of automated technology. Some may even argue the company essentially created the entire automated control industry. However, the company’s foray into the computer business is less well known. Honeywell was an innovator in early computing technology and even enjoyed some success in the field. By 1970 they had secured five percent of the entire world-wide computer market. Ultimately, Honeywell would abandon computer manufacturing, but for short time in the middle of the Twentieth Century they were at the forefront of computer innovation.
Honeywell entered the computer market in 1955 when they partnered with Raytheon, an east coast company that developed and manufactured computers. Honeywell had expertise in marketing and research, and Raytheon had contracts for computer development with the U.S. Navy and the National Security Agency. Both sides were optimistic that this joint venture, named the Datamatic Corporation, would be successful.
This vacuum tube computer board in Hennepin History Museum’s collection came from the corporation’s first computer known as the Datamatic 1000. The very first D-1000 was sold in 1957 for $1.5 million. The computer weighed over 25 tons and took up 6,000 square feet. It had 3,600 vacuum tubes and 500 transistors. The D-1000’s magnetic tape storage system was an innovation. It was also relatively fast for a first-generation computer. In the first few years, the corporation sold a total of seven D-1000s. Their customers included the First National Bank of Boston, the County of Los Angeles, and the U.S. Treasury.
In order to stay competitive in the computer market, Honeywell needed to develop a system that was both smaller and less expensive. Honeywell bought out Raytheon and turned the Datamatic Corporation into the company’s Electronic Data Processing division. Then the company created two more generations of systems known as the H-800 and the H-200. Honeywell also merged with and acquired other computer companies. Unfortunately, they never managed to control more than five percent of the market and would ultimately fail to survive in the computer industry.
Honeywell continued to develop and manufacture computers until 1986 when they officially left the market. Since the company could no longer compete in the development and manufacturing of computers, they chose to focus on integrating digital computer technology into their automated control products. Obviously, this decision proved to be the right one for them. Today, Honeywell is a Fortune 100 company. They may not have dominated the computer market, but they went on to achieve immense success.
Written by Alyssa Thiede
This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.