Help identify this vintage electronics component


[Windell] over at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories has reached out in order to help them identify a mystery piece of electronics equipment they came across a few years ago. Discovered at an electronics surplus store, the mystery component looks like a cross between an over-sized chess board and a breadboard. Failing to identify it they eventually disposed of the board, snapping a couple of pictures for good measure before it was gone for good.

Recently while visiting a local electronics flea market, they came across what looked to be a similar, though much smaller board. This piqued their curiosity and compelled them to dig out the pictures of the mystery board in hopes of finally discovering what it was. Using markings on the new board they found, the team at EMSL located some images of a patchboard cartridge that looked quite similar to their mystery object. Upon closer inspection however, they think that the two pieces might be related, but are not quite the same item.

Swing by their site and chime in if you happen to have any good leads – we’re sure they will appreciate it.


  1. DarkArmyOfOne says:

    Exactly what part of the board is electronics related? i looks to me like an oversized breadboard. but im surethose gents wouldnt be asking our help if thats what it was. ive seen these before, but am just as clueless. can anyone tell me if those holes go all the way through? or are they like peg plugs?

  2. st2000 says:

    I’ve never used one, but it sure looks like one of those things you use to program a Hollerith card sorter.

    I found the punch cards:

    But google has failed to find a picture of this thing. Hum, must not be called a “that thing that sorts Holerith cards” after all :(.

  3. h3po says:

    pretty sure that this is, in fact, a breadboard. here in germany there is a company called “kosmos” which still sells electronics learning kits like “build your own radio” with all single parts housed small cubes with banana plugs at the bottom. you can imagine that a breadboard for these oversized plug-parts would look like these things above.

  4. svengali says:

    Website says that it is all plastic no contacts or anything on the back.

  5. wardy says:


    The numbering is strange, 47-24 on one board and 24-47 on the other. That might make sense if the boards are designed to be set up facing each other with something in between, or perhaps pushed through both to make connections.


  6. st2000 says:
  7. G-Reg says:

    Ive seen enough info to assume that its definitly an old way to program or wire instruments to test. Its also very clear that its not compleat. Something has been stripped off of it through the years, prob for scrap. The fact that no one can identify it yet leads me to believe it was from a closed, proprietary system that maybe only a few people had access to. It seemed like a popular system back in the day so its not hard to imagine.

  8. DarkArmyOfOne says:

    Ya know what, i had something similar as a child, it was a gigantic foam/plastic breadboard for building/teaching how to build very simple circuits. it was not as large though. but i believe it is just that, PART of a learning tool.. possibly?

  9. st2000 says:

    Arrgggg, I (think I) have identified it. It’s just my 2nd of 3 postings is “awaiting moderation”. Probably because I put in links to the picture & web page.

    (I think) You stick jumpers into the board and shove it into a card sorter and let the sorter “sort things out”.

  10. nzc says:

    I’d bet it’s part of a programming panel from a punched card sorter, as others have speculated. I remember playing with things like that as a young child when my Mom took me in to her office at the University of Pittsburgh. They were obsolete then, and that was 1969 or so. They had metal rails and handles to allow them to be inserted and removed from the card sorter.

  11. John says:

    Most (OK, all) of the “wire programming” boards I have seen have metal frames.

    As h3po pointed out, this seems like the base for an electronics kit. I wanted one as a kid. It had blocks about the size of the squares in the pic. Each box had a transistor, resistor or other component. One would stick the blocks on the board and make circuits. The tops of the blocks were the schematic symbols, so looking at the circuit one could see the schematic. Way cool.

  12. ejonesss says:

    looks like the blank pcb stock for the earlier ibm mainframe computers.

    is one of the cards.

    the motherboard was nothing but male connectors in witch these cards would plug into.

    if the image does not show due to hotlinking copy and paste above url

  13. moldboy says:

    It’s peg board. Used for electronics prototyping. The parts came in little holders with feet. The board held the parts and then you used jumper wires to wire it all together

  14. xorpunk says:

    family sizes light bright

    I’m sure it’ll end up a arduino LED display soon..

  15. nova says:

    It’s obviously the prototype for super-battleship
    a game before its time.

  16. stonysmith says:

    It does appear to be a (IBM) Hollerith card sorter plugboard. It’s one of the earliest forms of “programs”.

    The sorter is programmed via a set of patch cables that connect between an array of jacks.

    This panel is placed over the jacks, and the plugs are pushed thru into the jacks. Then, when this panel is pulled off, the cables are held by this board, and come off with it.

    The “programmed” panels can then be swapped out quickly for some other configuration.

  17. cmholm says:

    Oh hell’s bells, I saw these on missile test benches 15 years ago… and the name is… ? When I saw them, they were mounted in beefy aluminum frames with handles, and were used as logic patch panels. They were old tech even then, along with the PDP-11s only then being phased out as test equipment controllers (with PCI bus-based emulator cards… cheaper and more reliable than trying to port test s/w written in PDP assembler).

  18. st2000 says:

    That’s interesting. The IBM PCBs reflect what is going on inside of the individual cans (I think). IBM fabricated IC w/BGAs, inverted them and attached them to a 3D PCB like ceramic holder (which make up the bottom of the square cans in your pictures). That is, IBM did not “bond out” chips like we do today. The pictured PCBs appear to be an extension of that idea. It all looks so easy for a computer to create. But is probably the most human unfriendly (reads: impossible to fix) PCB ever made.

    I still say the peg board is for an old IBM card sorter.

    So why is my post in limbo and your post (w/your embedded URLs) up and running?

  19. pbilke says:

    Can’t remember exactly what machine its for (Not IBM) but had several of these after disassembling some old computers (tabulators) in the late 70′s. The gold pins & connectors, and and the frames were worth cash so were remove. The plastic (and some Bakelite) were not worth anything for scrap.

    Some other examples

  20. Ren says:

    I have a couple of the raw IBM PCBs like you show on your link, the above photos look nothing like them.

  21. jef says:

    The secondary school in my neighborhood had an open-door today. I visited the school and in the science classroom I saw a similar ‘oversized breadboard’ which was used to demonstrated electronic circuits. Speaking of coincidence…
    They had plugs which contained a lamp, a volt meter, ampere meter etc, and which plugged into the board. For demonstration purposes they had made a parallel and serial circuit.

  22. Bob Spafford says:

    I agree that the numbering in these boards makes it unlikely that they were for a Hollerith card sorter. Nonetheless, they just gotta be logic plug boards for some specialized digital device from the steam driven era. These were the first implementation of a “programmable logic array”. The ones I have seen had no electrical contacts. Rather, the jumper wire ends had pins which clipped into the holes.

  23. BobSmith says:

    On the website, they conclude it’s probably a breadboard for fiber optics. After searching for fiber optic breadboards, I get pretty similar boards with evenly spaced holes, although all of the ones I find are flat black, rather than checkerboard.

    Here’s a bunch, for comparison:

  24. bobobo says:

    looks like some crazy dominoes based board game to me

  25. RobS says:

    These are `plugboards’. The are made of plastic about a half inch thick, and in my experience, they are used in a metal frame that has handles.

    In use, a metal pin is crimped on the end of a wire, and pushed into a hole. Another pin is crimped onto the other end of the wire and pushed into another hole. A number of wires inserted into the holes make up a `program’. The black and white printed pattern are to make it easier to locate the intended holes.

    The pins are equipped with `barbs’ to hold them in place, but allow a little play and rotation, and still be removable. Each pin extended a small distance below the bottom of the board, and was tapered to a centered 1/16 diameter cylinder. The pins I am familiar with were `formed’, not screw-machined. I think the whole `system’ was from A-MP, now part of Tyco.

    The entire board in its frame was plugged and latched into a large `socket’ frame. The latch mechanism was made so it pushed the plugboard sideways a small distance so the pins would engage the mating pins in the `socket’. In other words, it was a large `zero insertion force’ socket for up to many hundreds or thousands of of pins. The pins in the `socket’ frame were similar to the `plugboard’, but terminated in a flat tab, and the holes in the `socket were shaped to prevent rotation hand hold them at a 45 degree angle relative to the side of the frame, so that the sideways motion of the `plugboard’ at the last stage of latching would cause the round pin tips of the plugboard’ to engage the flat tabs of the `socket with a wiping motion.

    I have seen similar, but much larger plugboards than yours used on UNIVAC card readers and sorters.

    A set of twelve `plugboards and sockets were used on a Burroughs version of a ZIP-code reader for the post office. In this case, the plugboard pins were interconnected with resistors in the wires to serve as the `weighting values’ used with op-amps for recognizing the digits of a scanned ZIP-code. There was a plugboard for each digit and space, eleven plugboards total (and a spare). The character recognition `method’ was that of C. K. Chow, an engineer at Burroughs.

  26. Max says:

    Their website discusses this from 2007 blog. Four years and nobody has any answer? Seems to me that it’s something custom-made for one particular tester, or template. They are probably the only ones that exist?

  27. qwerty says:

    It’s a zero gravity chessboard! Pieces stick through the holes using four pins so they don’t move.

  28. I know exactly what it is.

    This used to pass as software when the programming was done using patchcords. This is a hard-wired program board used to set up card sorters and interpreters.

    Each checkerboard zone had a logical meaning and you patched little cords from one to the other to make a program for the machine.

    So this is how those old 5081 cards (with the holes and the clipped corners, you remember?) were translated into English (and printed along the upper margin) for example.

    It’s an old-school flash memory!

  29. Bob says:

    The numbering suggests that this was not part of a learning set and is definitely not a breadboard either. You would have numbers for rows and letters for columns. The fact that the number starts at 24 for one of the sides suggests that there is a part that numbers 1-24 that is missing. Injection molding limits the age of the part. It has no mounting holes although the checkered holes could be used for that purpose. They cannot be optical boards because those are made of heavy/stiff material to eliminate vibrations. The checkered pattern has a very generic significance. It is the pattern you would give when both the X and Y axis are equally important to alignment, otherwise you go with stripes of alternating colors. Their argument for an optical fiber patching board also makes no sense since you would still need something to hold the fibers in place. The holes have no retaining features on the inside. I think this is a structural component meant to align, mount, isolate, and insulate other components. Obviously in a system that uses high voltage. Maybe in a high voltage laboratory, this is a tool to test out arrangements.

  30. Post script- look up “plugboard” on and you will see a very similar unit in use.

  31. Davie Brightbill says:

    Back in the mid-60s to early 70s (I’ve gotten over being an old guy; you will too.), panels similar to this were used in a lot of devices. I used a similar panel to control the behavior of an IBM 029 keypunch. It was sort of like building a batch file. That panel was tan and had a metal frame, latches, etc.

  32. Microguy says:

    I’m going with the logic plug board that cmholm and Charles mentioned. I’ve seen similar devices also.

    Notice that each square has four holes, for what amounts to two jumpers. One for column and one for row. Today we’d do the same thing with one jumper, but use a diode to do both C/R jobs.

    These are probably pretty machine specific. Maybe programming a test bench or similar equipment.

    But I’ve seen devices like this used to “store” the boot code for a computer so it can start reading in the tape.

  33. SteveH says:

    We used to have these boards on the bottom of test heads used for an in-circuit testing. RobS description is right on the money. Metal pins through the peg board are wire wrapped and connect to spring loaded test point pins on the top side of the test head. A circuit board is placed on the test head, vacuum applied, and the board is sucked down to begin testing. Checker board can be seen here for the HP3065

  34. D_ says:

    H, if I know what it is.

  35. John says:

    Its obvious its a Russian chess/ Chinese checker board with the option to use special colored 4/4 point dominoes in which one end is black and one end is white all the while a learning tool for multiplication table but only in increments of four. Duh!!!

  36. phnx says:

    reading the comments for what it was and all i can think about is what I want it hacked to be… a nixie chessboard…

  37. Marc says:


    I don’t see bottom, if there is no electronic parts than i think that is made for creating “wires”

    In 1970 years, some connections was not made by PCB but by wires.
    In holes you stick small pins (using special template, to put stick in corect holes) and move that wires between stick. So every wire have correct length and direction. When you put all for example 50 wires, you tie them together using rope (i don’t know how to say small piece of rope)

    Look here how that small colorfull wires look.

    Regards from poland

  38. Dave says:

    it looks like the base board used to make Incircuit test fixtures. test fixtures for something like and HP3065 board test machine.

  39. Mike says:

    I believe this is a visual systems calibration board. Microsoft surface uses something similar to this to calibrate the microsoft surface. I work on 3M Lava systems and they calibrate the scanners with a small block that lookes like the checkerboard above. What machine this was used to calibrate I cant say but I bet it was a scanner/camera system used to track motion or scan 3d

  40. berslan says:

    I back h3po and DarkArmyOfOne on this. We have a similar learing kit with a brand “Tees”. The boars have no contacts. They just serve as a pad and you make all the connections with wires. the problem is, you cannot use standard components. you have to use components enclosed in lego like bricks, which have holes on each corner for wire connections.

  41. It looks like a punchboard to me.

    Popular in the 50s-80s, a wooden peg was punched through a hole (for a standard fee, a nickle to a dollar) which contained a rolled-up paper, it had a winning cash amount, free punch, advance to jackpot (if there was one) or prize – or nothing.

    Often “maps” were produced for them so the sellers knew which holes paid out which prizes. This funded the Milwaukee mafia (Balistrieris) and the Milwaukee Jewish mob, who ran punchboards from Michigan U.P. to Kentucky in every mom-and-pop store and gas station for years.

  42. jeff-o says:

    @Dave: That’s exactly what it is (at least, it can be used for that.) I know, because I’ve got one sitting next to me right now.

  43. FDP says:

    I can’t say what it is, but I can say that this is NOT an optical breadboard (for laser or fiber optics experiments). Those are usually made of honeycomb aluminum or granite and have threaded holes.

  44. Brian says:

    Dave is right, its an interface board from an early HP A.T.E machine, gold plated interface pins were inserted as required, the panel shown would be one of several used to make one HUGE connector.

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