Watch These Amazing 1973 Training Videos for Bell Labs’ Holmdel Computing Center

Jul 23, 2023 - 3 Comments

A Unix computer and workstation in 1973 at Bell Labs in New Jersey

As many of you likely know, the entire modern Apple operating system suite – from MacOS, iOS, iPadOS, visionOS, watchOS, and tvOS – are all based on UNIX, powering the Apple tech we all know and love. But way back in 1973, UNIX was a very different operating system running in a very different environment in Bell Labs (then part of AT&T).

These fun retro computing videos from AT&T offer an amazing look at the earliest days of computers, programmers, and storage. If you’re interested in computing history, or just want to get a glimpse of how far things have come in five decades, don’t miss these videos embedded below, and enjoy the fun music too.

Part 1: Training Video for Bell Labs’ Holmdel Computing Center – AT&T Archives

Text accompanying the video on YouTube helps to set the stage:

The year was 1973, and the computer operating system UNIX, invented at Bell Labs by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, had just morphed into its third iteration or improvement. The first version been released within the company 2 years before, and at this point there were machines running UNIX at 16 computer centers within the Bell System. These were primarily at Bell Labs locations — Whippany, NJ; Columbus, OH; Indian Hill, IL; and of course Murray Hill, NJ and Holmdel, NJ — among others. This film, made as a new employee’s orientation to the Holmdel location’s center, is a rare glimpse into the operations and procedures of an early 1970s research-oriented computing center.

UNIX evolved out of necessity at Bell Labs. The system’s creators were looking for better ways to integrate a shared computer environment. (Read Ritchie’s time-sharing system reminiscences) At this point, computers in the Bell System weren’t just relegated to computer science or the development of computer language. They were employed for all kinds of complex engineering calculations, and, sometimes, after hours, for making art and music.

Footage Courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ

Part 2: Training Video for Bell Labs’ Holmdel Computing Center – AT&T Archives

The text included with the Part 2 video is as follows:

This rare look inside a Bell Labs computer center, specifically the one at the Holmdel location, which was referred to internally as the “HOCC” or the “HO CC”. This film was made as orientation for new employees who would need to use the computer center, and this, part 2 of 2 is about the programming center within the HOCC.

One thing that’s notable about this film — different from Part 1 — is the preponderance of women working in the Programmer Services area. Around 1966, 7 years before this film was made, there were over 500 women working in “technical work” at Bell Labs, rather than administrative work, and many were in computing. A book and blog by Nathan Ensmenger examines the sociological history of computing, and why during the 1980s the computing field became more and more the province of men. Stories about women in the early decades of computing still reside in the world of the personal anecdote; it’s hard to assess the exact data on how many women worked in the field in the 1960s and 1970s.

Footage Courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ

If you’re into retro computing and computing history in general, the entire collection of AT&T Tech Archives is worth a visit on YouTube here.

Cheers to DaringFireball for finding the above videos.


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Fun, Retro


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  1. Buz Lightyear says:

    Notice the Raquel Welch pinup on the 370?

  2. Dick Wexelblat says:

    I was supervisor of the systems programming group at Bell Labs Holmdel at the time these videos were made. I remember the crew making them. But I did not recognize anyone and I’m pretty sure I was not in any… but wow! was this a nostalgia trip!

  3. Digital Doug says:

    What’s with the picture of the dolly bird on the System 370 !?!

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