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The History of Digital Storage

The underside of a Zip disc

The underside of a Zip disc (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you think of data storage you may think of a thumb drive or maybe a CD. But long before those modern day storage devices, there was the punch card. Originally for clocking in and out of work, the punch card had very humble beginning but is the forefather of modern data storage today.

  • In 1725, a textile worker named Basile Bouchon used a punch card to control looms. Essentially, the punch card allowed the machine to read and execute patters automatically. For the first time, a machine used a device to execute a process. It was the first memory card.
  • The year 1890 was the first time a punch card was used to record and read data from a computer. Herman Hollerith used a punch card to complete the 1890 census in just one year. The 1880 census took eight years to complete.
  • In 1947 the Williams Tube was created. It was the first random access digital storage unit. Its speed was 1.2 milliseconds per instruction. It had 0.0625 KB of storage.
  • In the 1950s, the drum memory was created. It is the precursor to the modern hard drive Platter. It had 10 KB of storage.
  • In 1951, Uniservo was created. It was the first commercially used tape drive. It had 128 bits per inch.
  • In 1956 the first modern hard drive, the IBM 350, was created. It had fifty 24 inch disks that spun at 1,200 RPM and 4.4 MB of storage.
  • In 1972 the cassette tape was created. It was slowly replaced as floppies became cheaper, but remained popular for portable music. It had 660 KB of storage per side.
  • In 1976 the 5.25 inch floppy was created. It is one of the first mass produced consumer storage devices. It was used to save documents and even load operating systems. It reached a peak of 1.2 MB of storage in 1982 with the HD version.
  • In 1980 the IBM 3380 was created. It was the first device to reach the gigabyte realm at 2.52 GB of storage. The year 1980 also saw the first 5.25 inch drive, ST-506, with 5 MB of storage. This is a precursor to the modern PC hard drive.
  • In 1987 the DAT was created. Originally created to be a high-end music recording device, it became storage for computers. It had 1.3 GB of storage.
  • In 1990, the ever enduring CD-R drive was created. The format is still widely used because of its large storage capacity and low price. It has 700 MB of storage.
  • In 1993, Sony created the MiniDisc MD Data. It was supposed to replace the floppy, but it was too expensive and was eventually replaced by the Zip Disk. It had 140 MB of storage.
  • In 1994 the Zip was created. It quickly replaced floppy for large documents and graphic design files. It was favored over the CD-R because it was rewritable. It had 100 MB of storage.
  • In 1996 the Seagate Barracuda was created. This was the first 7200 RPM drive, which is the standard today. It had 2.5 GB of storage.
  • In 1999 the IBM 170 Microdrive was created. These went into the first iPods before flash memory was affordable. It had 170 MB of storage.
  • In 2000 IBM revolutionized the way we store data with the DiskOnKey. The small, inexpensive device quickly killed the floppy and Zip disks. It had 8 MB of storage. Also in 2000 the SD card was introduced. It was used widely in handheld devices like cameras and phones because it was as thin as a quarter. It had 32 MB of storage.
  • In 2008 solid state drives came into prominence. With no moving parts, faster boot times, and smaller space requirements they are the modern way we store digital media. It would take 14,985 IBM 350s to match the capacity of one of these drives. They have 64 GB of storage.
  • Today we also have cloud storage. With nearly infinite storage capabilities we can access from any internet connected device, there is no telling what we can do.

About the Author:

This guest post is contributed by Debra Johnson, blogger and editor of She welcomes your comments at her email Id: – jdebra84 @

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