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What was the first personal computer?

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Click here for further information on our rarity scale RARITY: Unknown
 YEAR: 1969
 COMPANY: Honeywell Inc.

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Kitchen Computer

A view of the vintage Kitchen Computer an important part of computer history

The "Kitchen Computer" is a unique oddity in the history of computing. The famed Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog made it a practice to offer eye-catching (and wallet-busting) presents that were extravagant and unusual.

In 1969 catalog, Neiman-Marcus decided to feature a computer! It would be a computer that the lady of the house could use to store recipes and, so, it became commonly known as the "Kitchen Computer".

And not just any computer (well, there were not a lot of options in 1969 and this wasn't just any catalog), they chose the Honeywell 316. This computer and it's bigger brother, the Honeywell 516, were the computers used in the very first tests of the Internet. (Coincidentally, the Internet was created in the same year, 1969...but it was a top secret government project at that time. The Honeywell 315 and 516 were used as the "Interface Message Processors" or IMPS.) It probably helped that Neiman-Marcus already used Honeywell computers to manage their stores.

The Honeywell 316, like the computers of its time, was a big, boxy, ugly monstrosity that would not look good in an affluent home. (See picture of how the normal 316 looked) So Neiman-Marcus decided to re-design the computer. Instead of the ugly box, the woman of the house would be getting a sleek red and white computer on a black pedestal. It even included a built in cutting board (the white shelf in the front). This has to be ranked among the most impractical accessories in computer history..."Careful dear, don't get any of those little bones in the computer when you're preparing the fish."

Did anyone buy one?

Some articles claim that the whole Kitchen Computer offer was too impractical to be a serious offer. They suggest it was a publicity stunt and that Neiman-Marcus never intended to sell any computers. However, the Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog was famous for its impractical and outlandish gifts...and the rich bought them. In the 1968 catalog, Neiman-Marcus offered a pair of Jaguars: a Jaguar XKE Grand Touring Coupe for Him and a Jaguar Coat for Her ($5,559 & $5,975 respectively). Three pairs were sold. In their 1962 catalog, they offered a genuine Chinese junk for $11,500. It had been made in Hong Kong, was 30 feet long with teak decks, mahogany planking and sails. Three people bought the Chinese junk. One can never underestimate how the very rich choose to spend their money. As Edward Marcus said, "no hostess can claim to have the 'mostest' unless she has this marvelous mini-computer to help her plan menus for her family and for dinner guests".

In fact, the Kitchen Computer wasn't the most outlandish offering in the 1969 catalog. That honor would have to go to the tank truck filled with a 100,000 gallons of Aramis men's cologne. The cost for that gift was $5,000,000 and you had to wait until February for delivery!

Given their clientele, the store may have actually expected to sell some of these computers. Edward Marcus said that the computer was "an ideal selection for the catalog because it offers something unique to the modern housemaker who doesn't quite have everything". He went on to say that "he would not be surprised if quite a few Neiman-Marcus customers bought the Honeywell mini-computer".1 He pointed out that not only could the lady of the house use it in her kitchen but that the man of the house could use it to keep track of his stock portfolio and the children could use it to do homework. (Really, the children could use it? I guess he forgot about the two week programming course.)

As far as we know, not one Kitchen Computer was ever sold. The only existing model is currently on display in the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

Impractical but Prescient

Honeywell had only gotten into the computer business 14 years earlier when they partnered with Raytheon to form Datamatic Corporation. Their first computer, the D-1000, weighed 25 tons and cost $1.5 million2. This project indicates that they were looking ahead to a time when individuals would be able to own computers; a time when computers would move from the corporations to homes. It may seem all too obvious now, but in 1969 there were few people who would see that coming. The vice-president and general manager of Honeywell's Computer Control Division, Paul Bothwell, stated that a computerized home was "very realistic". (see press release for more information)

1 From the official press release for the 1969 Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog.

2 See Honeywell's website for more information.

Related Items
      Related Item 1: Kitchen Computer Press Release
      Related Item 2: Kitchen Computer Press Release #2
      Related Item 3: The Neiman-Marcus Christmas Book 1969

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Click on any of the images below to see the slideshow. The Kitchen Computer (Honeywell 316) The Honeywell 316
(Analogs in blue)
  1. AIM-65 (single board)
  2. AIM-65 (factory case)
  3. AIM-65 (Jon Titus)
  4. ALICE micro-ordinateur
  5. Altair 680
  6. Altair 8800
  7. Altair 8800A
  8. Altair 8800b
  9. Altair 8800b Turnkey (see Pertec below)
  10. Altair 8800b (see Pertec below)
  11. Altair 8800b w/ Hardisk Controller & Datakeeper
  12. Altos ACS-8000
  13. American Basic Science Club Analog Computer
  14. AMF Educational Computer
  15. Apple II Plus
  16. ASCI SystemX
  17. ASR 33 Teletype
  18. Automatic Teaching Computer Kit
  19. Beckman ElectroComp Electric Heating Computer
  20. Beckman ElectroComp Energy Savings Computer
  21. Beckman Solid State Fuel Cost Computer
  22. Brainiac K-30
  23. Calif. Computer Systems 2200
  24. CES Ed-Lab 650
  25. Commodore 8032
  26. Commodore 64
  27. Commodore PET 2001
  28. Commodore Super Pet
  29. Compucolor II
  30. Compukit 1
  31. Compukit 1 Deluxe Model
  32. Compukit 2
  33. Compukit UK101
  34. Comspace CT-650
  35. Cosmac Elf (RCA1802)
  36. Cosmac Microtutor
  37. Cosmac Netronics ELF II
  38. Cosmac VIP
  39. Cromemco System I
  40. Cromemco System III
  41. Cromemco Z-2D
  42. Datapoint 2200
  43. Digi-Comp I (flat box)
  44. Digi-Comp I (square box)
  45. Digital Computer Lab
  46. Donner 3500
  47. Durango F-85
  48. Dynabyte
  49. E & L Inst MMD-1
  50. E & L Inst MMD-2
  51. Eagle II
  52. Electric Tabulating Machine (one original counter, 1889)
  53. Electronic Associates TR-10
  54. Electronic Associates TR-10 Model II
  55. Electronic Associates TR-20
  56. Electronic Associates TR-48
  57. Electronic Associates Model 180
  58. Electronic Associates Model 380 Hybrid
  59. Geniac
  60. Google Glass (definitely not vintage)
  61. Heath EC-1 (factory assembled by Heath)
  62. Heathkit EC-1 (kit)
  63. Heathkit ET 3100 trainer
  64. Heathkit H8
  65. Heathkit H9 Video Terminal
  66. Hickok Logic Teaching Sys.
  67. Hickok Servo Teaching Sys.
  68. HP 2115A
  69. HP 85
  70. HP 5036A
  71. HP 9825A
  72. HP 9825B
  73. HP 9830A
  74. Iasis 7301
  75. I-COR MAC-1
  76. ICS Microcomputer Training System
  77. IMSAI 108 (prototype)
  78. IMSAI 8048 Control Computer
  79. IMSAI 8048 (The Dollhouse Computer)
  80. IMSAI 8080
  81. IMSAI PCS-40
  82. IMSAI PCS-80
  83. IMSAI VDP-80
  84. Informer
  85. Intel Intellec MDS
  86. Intel MDS-800
  87. Intel Prompt 48
  88. Intel SBC 80/10
  89. Intel SDK-85
  90. Intel SDK-85 (unassembled)
  91. Intel SDK-86
  92. Intertec Superbrain
  93. ITT MP-EX
  94. JR-01 Computer
  95. KIM-1
  96. LAN-DEC
  97. LAN-DEC 20
  98. LAN-ALOG
  99. Lehrcomputer (Germany)
  100. Lawrence Livermore Lab
  101. Lear Siegler ADM3A
  102. Logikit LK255 (Feedback)
  103. Logix SF-5000 Electronic Computer
  104. MAC-1 Mini Analog Computer
  105. MAC Tutor (Bell Laboratories)
  106. MEK6800D2
  107. Micro 68
  108. Microtan 65
  109. Midwest Scientific Instruments 6800
  110. Minivac 601
  111. Minivac 6010
  112. Mini-Scamp Microcomputer
  113. Nascom I
  114. Nascom II
  115. National Radio Institute 832
  116. NEC TK-80
  117. NorthStar Horizon
  118. Olivetti Programma 101
  119. Olivetti Programma 203
  120. Olivetti Programma 602
  121. Open University PT501
  122. Ordinateur d'Apprentissage JR-01
  123. Osborne 1
  124. OSI 300
  125. OSI 600 (SuperBoard II)
  126. OSI C2-OEM-4
  127. OSI Challenger-1P
  128. Pastoriza Personal Analogue Computer
  129. Pertec MITS 300/25 (Altair desk business system)
  130. Pertec MITS 300/55 (Altair Turnkey business system)
  131. PolyMorphic Systems 8810
  132. PolyMorphic Poly-88
  133. Protech-83
  134. Range Keeper Mk.6 Mechanical Analog Computer, 1926
  135. Range Keeper Mk.7 Mechanical Analog Computer, 1935?
  136. Sargent-Welch Scientific Company Cat. No.7528 Analog Computer
  137. Science of Cambridge MK-14 (Sinclair)
  138. SD Systems Z80 starter kit
  139. Sharp MZ-40K
  140. Sharp MZ-80k
  141. Siemens ECB-85
  142. Signetics Instructor 50
  143. Sinclair ZX-81
  144. Smoke Signal Broadcasting
  145. Sol-20
  146. Spark16
  147. Sphere 1
  148. Sphere/SWTPC Computer System
  149. SWTP CMOS Microlab
  150. SWTP CT-82 Terminal
  151. SWTPC 6800
  152. SWTPC 6800 (w/ Smoke Signal Broadcasting drive)
  153. SWTPC CT-64 Video Terminal, SS-50
  154. SWTPC TV Typewriter II CT-1024
  155. Synertek VIM-1
  156. Synertek SYM-1
  157. Systron-Donner 3500
  158. Tei MCS-112
  159. Tektronix 4006-1
  160. Telefunken RAT 700
  161. TI LCM-1001 (Microprogrammer)
  162. TI LCM-1001 (Microprogrammer)
  163. TI Silent 700 Terminal
  164. TI TM 990/189
  165. Vector 1
  166. Vector 3
  167. Vidac 336
  168. Wang 2200
  169. Welch Scientific Company Cat. No.7528 Analog Computer
  170. Xerox 820 Mark I
  1. Chameleon Plus
  2. Commodore SX64
  3. Epson HX-20
  4. Kaypro I
  5. Kaypro II
  6. Kaypro 2x
  7. Kaypro 16
  8. Osborne 1
  9. Panasonic Senior Partner
  10. Visual Commuter
  1. Babbage's Calculating Engine (1834)
  2. Electric Tabulating Machine (1889, Herman Hollerith's personal copy)
  3. The Hollerith Electric Tabulating System (1890)
  4. Counting a Nation by Electricity (1891)
  5. Calculating Machines (1947)
  6. Moore School Lectures Vol. II (1947)
  7. Mathematical Theory of Communication (1948)
  8. Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems (1949)
  9. The "Moore's Law" article (Electronics, 1965)
  10. Printout from Babbage's Difference Engine #2 (London Science Museum, 2004)