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Date: Sat, 29 Jan 2000 17:13:58 -0800 (PST)
From: Tom Jennings
Dead medium: Portable pneumatic tube, early multi-media
Source(s): "ELECTRONIC INFORMATION DISPLAY SYSTEMS", Spartan Books, Inc, Washington D.C., 1963; edited by James H. Howard, Rear Admiral, U.S.N.(Ret.). JPEG page images of the above article at

"One hundred million bits of random access storage are provided by two magnetic disk files, each housed in a 2-1/2 ton utility truck."

ARTOC, a late-1950's hare-brained Army tactical field communications coordination system, is a breathtaking mixture of Rube Goldberg technologies whose purpose was to coordinate information from many different and incompatible sources (messengers on foot; radio; centrally-gathered intelligence, etc) and to present it in a coordinated manner to Army personel who needed to make decisions based upon the information, once coordinated.

ARTOC is at once beautiful and horrifying; it used brute force, Army logic, blind faith and the latest in computer technology to put together what can only be called a multi-media system. It was very, very ambitious, to say the least.

Apparently this thing actually existed, at least in prototype form.

ARTOC is a portable, field-operated system. One tent full of people accepted the sundry inputs, and input them to computer(s), both graphical and textual. It is nearly impossible today to imagine how far-fetched storing graphical data in a computer was, in 1959. It just wasn't done. These were vector, not raster, days, and the details of implementation are not elaborated upon in this article.

You should read the article for details; but essentially, there was one tent where input was entered into the system, and a number of other tents, somewhat physically remote from the input area, that contained a number of display stations.

Data was input to a computer, which was used to produce photographic-type slides, in color, by using a non-real-time cathode-ray tube with RGB filters to make each "separation". The slide-producing machine (see photo) spit out a developed and mounted slide in under 10 seconds (please don't stand in its way). Each slide had a machine-readable indext attached. These were delivered by pneumatic tube to the remote display stations.

Each display station consisted of a small (20") rear-projection viewer and a large (7 foot) front projection viewer. There was some way to select which slide(s) to view; but essentially the slides were overlays for maps, and text could be overlaid in some manner on the screens too.

From page 236:

"A very simple, reliable pneumatic distribution and transport system automaticall delivers the slides from a central slide generator to the many display units in a user area. Two slide generators which feed the same pneumatic distribution network are located in each user area to maintain continuous operation during maintenance and reliading periods. Positive slides arrive at the display units about 12 sec. after initiation of computer output.

This was also a FIELDATA system, experience with which lead directly to the first ASCII standard, in 1963. It used the military MOBIDIC computer, a portable, transistorized computer, apparently under 150 lbs (don't laugh; most computers in 1959 consumed a thousand square feet).

[The article at is preceded by a rant I wrote last summer; scroll to the end to see the original article. It contains photos of some of the equipment.]

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