Wang 320SE calculator at York University

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Wang 320SE calculator at York University


hardware: electronic calcuator


Historical context (by Z. Stachniak)

The commercialization of the transistor in the first half of the 1950s had a dramatic impact on the decade-old computer industry. The all-transistor computers were offered as early as 1953 and, by the end of the 1950s, all major computer manufacturers were building transistorized machines. Similar shift to solid-state technology was made across consumer electronics industry (for example, in the mid-1950s, all-transistor radios quickly began to replace large and bulky vacuum tubes-based radio sets).

Despite clear advantages that solid-state electronics had to offer to calculator manufacturers (if built, transistor-based  calculators would be smaller, quieter, more versatile, and virtually maintenance free when compared with the traditional desktop electro-mechanical calculators), the calculator industry was much slower in adopting the new technology. Calculator manufacturers were quite reluctant to venture into electronics when no competitors, even those with electronics divisions (such as Olivetti, Burroughs, Sony, and Canon), were putting any electronic calculators on the market. They were simply unwilling to go against their main core products that still delivered corporate wealth and prestige, they had no desire to invest substantial resources into concurrent divisions of electronic calculators that would internally compete with their best-performing divisions of electro-mechanical calculators.

It was not until the early 1960s that the first solid-state calculators appeared on the consumer market and almost instantly gained consumer acceptance. While most of the early electronic calculators supported only rudimentary arithmetic operations with, in some cases, one or two memory registers for storing intermediate results, several firms introduced calculators with functionality that went far beyond that. The execution of short sequences of instructions (programs) was the most notable of these new features. Programs for such calculators could be keyed-in by an operator or read from an external storage media (such as punch cards) and, then executed as many times as desired by a single press of a key.

In 1964, Massachusetts-based companies Mathatronics Inc. and Wang Laboratories Inc. introduced their first programmable calculators: the Mathatron and the LOCI-2, respectively. The following year, an Italian manufacturer of office equipment Olivetti introduced its Programma 101.
All these programmable calculators were positioned to bridge the gap between ordinary desk-top calculators that offered instantaneous, personal, and easy to use operations but no substantial information processing capabilities, and the large and complex mainframe computers that required high-degree of training and long waiting times to perform users' computational tasks. Some of these calculators could be interfaced with a range of peripherals including printers, plotters, and external storage. Libraries of ready to run programs were also offered.

Wang announced its new 300 Series programmable calculator in 1967. The calculator's more advanced models in the 300 series were offered in 1968. In their basic configuration, all these systems consisted of the central processing unit (CPU, referred to as "electronic package" in Wang's literature) and of up to four keyboard consoles remotely connected to the CPU. Using a standard keyboard console (model "K") a user could execute programs composed in terms of rudimentary arithmetic operations as well as square root, logarithmic and exponential functions. Programs of up to 80 steps were stored on dedicated punch cards and could be executed by reading them using an optional CP-1 Card Programmer interfaced with the calculator. Using a trigonometric keyboard unit (model "KT") a user could include trigonometric functions in programs. The calculator also offered random access storage (in up to four random access registers) and automatic summation of products, multipliers, and/or entries. Wang published a library of applications programs in areas ranging from engineering to finance.

Wang 320SE at York University

In the mid-1960s, York was rapidly growing and establishing new key departments. In 1965, Ralph W. Nicholls joined York University from the University of Western Ontario to form a new Department of Physics. In the same year, he became founding director of York's Centre for Research in Experimental Space Science (CRESS, later renamed the Centre for Research in Earth and Space Science) that quickly gained prominence in North America. Unfortunately, York's first computer--the IBM System/360 Model 30--was only installed in November 1966 and, until then, CRESS members had to rely on calculators and computer resources offered by the University of Toronto.

In 1968, the Department of Physics moved into a newly constructed Petrie Science Building by which time a new IBM System/360 Model 40 was operational. In order to reduce the access to the new shared computer in cases that did not require full computational power of a mainframe computer, CRESS installed a Wong 320SE system in Petrie building. The 320SE system simulatneously supported four keyboard terminals. The calculator's CPU was located in one of the utility rooms. Each of the four terminal keyboards was placed in the hall of each floor.

The calculator was decommissioned in the early 1990s.

Museum's holdings

  • Wang 320SE central processing unit,
  • Wang 320K conventional keyboard terminals (3 units),
  • Wang 320KT trigonometric keyboard terminal.

Manuals and promotional literature:
  • 300 Series WANG Electronic Calculators -- Instruction Manual, Wang Laboratories Inc., 1967,
  • 300 Series Program Library, vol. 1, Wang Laboratories Inc., 1967,
  • 300 Series electronic calculator -- instruction manual, vol. 1, Wang Laboratories Inc., 1968,
  • 370 Series Programmable Calculating System, promotional brochure, Wang Laboratories Inc., 1968,
  • 370 System Reference Manual, vol. 1, Wang Laboratories Inc., 1968,
  • 370 Calculating System Program Library, vol. 1, Wang Laboratories Inc., 1968.


Wang Laboratories Inc.




York University, 1968-199?





Wang Laboratories Inc., “Wang 320SE calculator at York University,” York University Computer Museum Canada, accessed July 19, 2024,

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