Inventor of the Week Archive
for a different Invention or Inventor
Reynold Johnson was born in 1906 in Minnesota. He attended the
University of Minnesota, achieving his B.S. in education administration
in 1929. He then began teaching science and math at a local
His life changed in 1933, when he lost his teaching job and
began shopping around an idea he had for an electromechanical
device for automatically marking and grading pencil-marked
multiple choice tests. One of the companies he attempted to
interest was IBM, which initially refused the design. But
in 1934, the company reassessed the machine and saw in Johnson
great potential. They offered him a position as an engineer
in their Columbia University and Endicott laboratories in
Johnson became one of the company's most prolific inventors,
specializing in electromechanical devices. The company became
aware of a growing need for improved data storage systems
in the early 1950s and asked Johnson to lead a research team
in Silicon Valley to work on this project. In 1952, he assembled
the team, which began examining magnetic disk storage systems.
IBM asked the team to use their research to develop a mass
random access memory (RAM) storage system within two years
that was to be of commercial quality. RAM gives a user the
ability to seek and access a particular record or data file
in storage rather quickly ‚ in seconds or fractions of seconds.
At the time data was stored in card files or magnetic tape
files, and it sometimes took several minutes to find what
one was looking for.
Johnson and his team paid close attention to a report about
magnetic disk storage experiments conducted by Jacob Rabinow
of the National Bureau of Standards. They decided Rabinow's
disk concept had beneficial characteristics and concluded
that their design would be based on a disk drive configuration.
In contrast to the cylinder configuration that was more widely
used at the time, Johnson believed that a disk system would
allow for greater potential for future miniaturization, cost-effectiveness
and system reliability.
In late 1955, Johnson and his team presented the first-ever
working hard drive to IBM management. The RAMAC (Random Access
Method of Accounting Control) was very large, weighing in
at one ton, but it met IBM's original specifications, with
access time to any given file averaging at about one second.
It used fifty 24-inch magnetic disks rotating at 1200 RPM
on one shaft, with two read/write heads that could quickly
access the files. In 1956, IBM introduced the first commercial
magnetic disk drive, the RAMAC 350, and even today, all disk
drives are based on Johnsonís basic system.
Johnson obtained 90 patents over the course of his career,
many in the field of card handling, punching and reading devices.
He also worked with Sony to invent the process of storing
video on video tape that was half the width of normal video
tape, leading to the creation of the VCR. He was honored with
numerous awards, including the National Medal of Science from
President Reagan in 1986, and in 1992 the IEEE established
the annual Reynold B. Johnson Award for the Advancement of
Information Storage Technology.
Johnson retired in 1971 and continued to work at his Education
Engineering Associates consulting company, where he created
a microphonograph, used in Fisher-Price's "Talk to Me" books.
He died in 1998 at the age of 92.