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Icons of Progress

The Floppy Disk


In 1967, punched cards were still being used for data entry and software programming. David L. Noble was assigned to lead a project at IBM to develop a new system for loading instructions and installing software updates into mainframe computers. After trying several different options, the team came up with a flexible disk coated with magnetic material. The original disk had the capacity of 3000 punched cards.

At first, the floppy disks got dirty easily. Herb Thompson and Ralph Flores came up with the idea of encasing the disk inside a special envelope equipped with an innovative dust-wiping element. Now the disks could be handled and stored without concern about exposing them to dirt and other damaging elements.

Because many companies still relied on punched card systems for data entry, IBM adapted its punched card data entry machines so the operators could easily shift from loading data on paper cards to putting it on disks. Eventually, as the personal computer became popular, floppy disks became the prominent form of data storage for small systems.

Floppy disk technology evolved over time. The first 8-inch floppy disk had a storage capacity of about 80 kilobytes. By 1986, IBM introduced the 3-1/2 inch floppy disk with 1.44 megabytes of storage space. This may seem like very little now, but at the time it was hard to imagine needing more space than that.