Just six months after its launch in July 1953, the IBM 650 had already handled a range of applications that far exceeded its developers' original expectations. Some of those early tasks were:

By 1955, the 650 had been used in non-government scientific work for the first time. The engineering department of General Electric's apparatus sales division used the 650 to analyze complex electrical system generating, transmission and distribution problems. This application was regarded at the time as a significant advance in engineering problem-solving and it pointed to a role that the 650 would play elsewhere with distinction.

That's because the 650 filled the gap between the relatively few large-scale computers (such as the IBM 701) which were then available commercially, and the more prevalent standard punched card equipment of the times.

Among the engineering applications handled by the 650 were determining the most economical operation of electrical utility systems, and working on radio interference phenomena, thermodynamic and heat transfer problems, and atomic power studies.

The 650's availability also meant that product design engineers, working with applications engineers, could make wide use of the power of the electronic digital computer. Among the first such uses: lubrication studies on rotating machinery and turbine flow characteristics. Engineers also used the 650 to obtain system design facts quickly on many alternative approaches, resulting in system improvements worth millions of dollars to their companies.

Meanwhile, for the booming aerospace industry, the 650 was a significant addition to its engineering tool kit. The machine could solve problems that were otherwise virtually unsolvable or would require far more time on other data processing equipment. Lockheed obtained the first 650 in the industry in 1955. It was used in computing flight paths for guided missiles by numerical simulation of control systems and autopilots. The 650 was also used to calculate heating effects at extremely high speeds and helped in upper atmosphere research.

Also in 1955, the U.S. Army's Computational Laboratory in the Guided Missile Division -- which later became a part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center -- employed two IBM 650 computers to design the Jupiter C (Composite Reentry Test Vehicle).

A 650 RAMAC was used at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's Indianapolis air route traffic control center to automatically process flight data and print thousands of flight strips each day for air traffic controllers.


Fig. 1 - IBM 650s
Picture took in 1959 at the FAA's Indianapolis air route traffic control center is a six million digit reservoir of air traffic information contained in the 650's magnetic disk storage unit (center) which was constantly updated for processing and for reference by controllers. When the controllers wished to check on the data in storage, the IBM 838 typewriter inquiry station (foreground) furnished a printed copy of the desired facts instantly.

For the automobile industry, the 650 stored schedules of finished products spanning weeks or months, and calculated the number of parts required for their production while considering "lead time" and other factors. The machine indicated the dates on which orders had to be placed so each part was available on schedule.

One of the early scientific applications of the 650 was at DuPont in 1955 involving atomic energy processes.

But even prosaic accounting office applications mushroomed, too, as companies of all kinds recognized that the 650 could save hours of clerical effort and permit rapid processing of business information. For example, also in 1955, the Houston-Fort Worth accounting office of the Gulf Oil Corporation and Gulf Refining Company used the 650 to handle a complicated payroll, crude oil accounting and royalty payments.

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