1964 300baud modem surfs the web

[phreakmonkey] got his hands on a great piece of old tech. It’s a 1964 Livermore Data Systems Model A Acoustic Coupler Modem. He recieved it in 1989 and recently decided to see if it would actually work. It took some digging to find a proper D25 adapter and even then the original serial adapter wasn’t working because the oscillator depends on the serial voltage. He dials in and connects at 300baud. Then logs into a remote system and fires up lynx to load Wikipedia. Lucky for [phreakmonkey] they managed to decide on a modulation standard in 1962. It’s still amazing to see this machine working 45 years later. He’d love to hear from you if you’ve used a similar device.

[via Waxy]

105 thoughts on “1964 300baud modem surfs the web

  1. i used to use a coupler attached to my terminal/thermal printer, i think it might have been a TI device, to connect to remote telephone switches for Executone back in the later 80’s

  2. @fluxste:
    This seriously predates graphics cards and PCs. This is when dumb terminals were no more than interfaces for very dumb ASCII and RS-232 terminals. Think TTY-33/35, ASR, baudot, Ro/Ro, paper tape for serious data transfers.

    I remember being wowed by 110 to 300 baud, mylar tape, wondering about how to use some unused transmission code for nefarious purposes. $*$FU2!


    all that is missing is a 14″ monochrome orange display with a hercules graphic card and making sure that the modem had its way with irq settings and dma channels before installing an 8 bit mono soundblaster card, not to mention the com port conflict between com 1 and com 3 ( 1 was mouse,(9 pin serial))….those were fun times indeed!!

    Posted at 9:28 pm on May 27th, 2009 by fluxste

  3. I’m from Livermore.

    To make this authentic, you should use an old dial telephone, not the new push button kind. Better yet, call the operator and have her dial the number for you. It has to be an American operator too, not a foreign call center type so keep trying until the accent sounds correct. Now that you got me going, how about an antique dial-less phone! Dial Zero by rapidly engaging the hook 10 times, and the operator will come on and make the connection.

  4. great work dude!!! it was awesome to see you get all that working. there’s just something about spending free time in getting old things to work. it feels like such a huge accomplishment. the wives might not think it’s that neat, but I sure do! thanks for posting this.

  5. The transformers website would destroy this modem and send it home to mom in a sardine box, after it had been lit on fire and thrown into an industrial crusher.

  6. I first used one of the modern acoustic couplers in 1969 with an ASR33 TTY, running at 10cps I think. We then used then with the IBM 2741 that ran at 13.4CPS then upgraded to a 30 cps thermal printer. If I remember correctly the frequency was 1300 and you could whistle into the coupler and get the device to type. Never could spell my name.

    Years later I found a box very simliar to this one and still have it along with my first Cobol program deck, my decimal/octal/hex calculator (TI545 I think), flow charting template and my “THINK” sign. They are packed next to my K&E slide rule. Thanks for the memories.

  7. That is so cool. I had an acoustic coupler for my TRS-80 Model 100.

    My first modem was a Radio Shack DC-1, you had to dial the phone yourself.

    Only modem I have now is the one built into my laptop that I’ve never, ever used.

  8. Anybody else reminded of Hackers or Wargames?

    How about the “Not Quite Human” movies?

    The principals are sound (oh crap, a pun? I swear it was unintentional), nothing to get super excited about. If you keep your eyes open when watching nerdy movies you can see a lot (I wonder if Tron or Real Genius have one of these?)

    Anybody want to make some software that can do this with the PC sound card? Then all you need is a speaker and mic :) (is it technically feasible? Might be fun.)

  9. Great video. I often wondered why Hollywood was so obsessed with the slowly-displaying-line-of-text gimmick – it’s been forty years since the studio executives saw a computer?

    Everyone’s an expert, so here’s my $0.02. Get in touch with some steampunk tragics for your next shoot, and they’ll lend you a suit and some flying goggles. And some nice drapes (^^,)

    Do multiple takes and then edit it down, then you won’t have to turn the camera. If your screen pov was dead on we’d the userid jokes ;)

    I think it would be appropriate to get a small brass plate engraved or stamped with the device’s history, including terms of custodial ownership – or caretakers? ‘sum quod eris’.

    And close the lid, isn’t it what that little notch is for? There should be a telephone history museum near you that might even beable to help set up a patch board as per doug’s comments ^^^.

    Lastly, how about some historically significant places to telnet to … some of your .mil or .edu sites?

    I enjoyed this immensely. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

  10. A hack? Hardly, you used an old modem to do what the new ones are doing currently. Why wouldn’t the old stuff work? The purpose and standards haven’t changed. Nothing new, special or unique. What a lot of hype over $2 thrift shop fodder.

  11. So, you connected a modem. What’s the hack? You connected to the web through another computer, what’s the hack?

    I can’t decide what’s more embarassing, thinking this is cool or that everyone else seems to think it is…

    Try it again, direct, with a tube kit from 1954 running somewhere between 45 and 70 Baud and a 1969 Zenith industrial processor. That would be a minor hack. Then again, it’s just data.

  12. Excellent fun! What surprises me is the DB25 connector on a 1964 device. RS-232C wasn’t defined until 1969. Before it was called RS-232C, I seem to remember it being called just EIA (mostly compatible with the later RS-232C). Exactly how old that is, I don’t know. Guess you were pretty lucky to find a device that implemented an electrical interface that was compatible with a standard that didn’t exist yet.
    But I loved it!
    This is something all people should watch, if they are interested in computers and computer communication.

  13. Very nice video demonstration there.
    I remember in the late 60 and early 70 we used the old creed 5 teletype printer with RTTY at 50 – 55 baud on shortwave radio amateur bands.
    DOS was the days.

  14. Dude, this made my day. I showed it to all my fellow nerds in the office and we loved it. I wish I had that piece of hardware. It is such a classic. The closest thing I have is a mechanical calculator. Awesome video.

  15. I kept an old acoustic modem around until 1993 — it was all I could afford when I was in college (got it at a government auction for $1). I used it for syncing my dying Columbia Data Systems 8088 (with the 41256 memory chips ripped out of an old TRS-80 also bought at auction) to the NIST atomic clock.

  16. It’s so old it’s got the Isaac Hayes command set.

    That’s right, baby.

    Make that the Gabby Hayes command set!


    I’ll be here all weekend folks, working for my co-sysop status…

  17. when i worked for the city we didnt have net access. I found a bunch of old 300 (and one 1200 Woot!) baud modems in storeage and decided to give it a shot. 14.4 was the standard at the time . I hooked up the giant ancient 300 baud and voila… net access! It took about 17 hours to load up a text page but still. It was way cool

  18. COME ON NOW, he is certainly surfing the web. The fact that ASCII to binary conversion, and viceversa takes place, along with an intermediary computer is employed doesn’t mean he is not. That’s like saying one isn’t listening to music or other audio, if a microprocessor is used to convert digital bits to audio wave forms that animal can hear. In the event thing truly go to crap, It will be the old farts, and the genuine young nerds who will be hacking away, sharing the fun via computer networks. Damn where did I put my cane, I need to get up and go use the crapper. :)

  19. nubie- google soundcard packet. you’ll find several applications that will turn a computer soundcard into a modem. Intended for use with radio xcvrs, but they just might work using cups with a microphone, and speaker.

  20. Nice vintage demo, thanks. When I was in high school (vintage 1973) in Palo Alto, I was a geek in Computer Lab. We had a 300 baud enabled timeshare to the computers at Stanford U. Input devices were keyboard & punch tape; output was a Western Union teletype machine of Korean war vintage. Our team wrote a checkers program using COBOL. I scored an A for the year. Who woulda thunk back then that we’d be checking our stock funds on wifi laptops in a coffee shop somewhere today, eh?

  21. Anyone ever tried the trick of getting a DreamCast to connect to broadband by putting a 56k modem into your PC and wiring them together, making sure to disable wait for tone before dialing? I could never be bothered. Might have to rip it out and have a go :D Can’t remember the site it was on though!

  22. I played Zork and Adventure on LA32 and LA34 paper terminals connected to a PDP 11/70 over coupler modems. The LA34 had a 110 baud coupler modem and the LA34 had the much faster 300 baud coupler modem. We also got to bring these thermal paper terminals home that had built-in coupler modems. Those were the days.

  23. I found a perfect Apple II E(i think it was an E…)in my attic about 6 months ago…It workeed perfectly but i didnt have anything to use with it except a useless 5″ floppy drive(i didnt have any floppies) and my dad threw it out…i liked it too.

  24. Does anyone remember one of the first KITs for building an acoustic coupler?
    It was the Pennywhistle back in 1976 March issue of popular electronics, if I remember well.
    I would like some scans if someone owns it.
    I have managed to buy one of these on e-bay.
    I will definitelly do a reverse engineering and make a replica of the modem. :))) I love to see old technology live again. This can be used as a sound card interface modem, more usefull to radio amateurs and computer nostalgics these days rather than fast speed browsing.
    Well have you thought that this is the only way to get into the internet using a public telephone? ;)
    Yes sometimes old stuff can give us possibilities that newer stuff cannot.
    Check my website at microwave.gr/giannopk for more updates in the next weeks/months for complete schematics.

  25. You bet I remember 300 baud. Back in the early’ 80s, I remember posting regularly on a 300 baud dialup called the Princeton BBS. One day they announced a party and I showed up at the appointed address, rang the doorbell and was greeted by a startled-looking couple. They conducted me down to the rumpus room, handed me coke and pretzels, then introduced me to my equally startled hosts — a bunch of 13-year-olds. We had never spoken about anything much except PCs, they never guessed I was an adult and I assumed they were peers, which they were, intellectually. We talked for about half an hour and I went home, Writing this, I get the creepy feeling that had this happened today I might have been jailed as a pedophile. Too bad. They were a great bunch of guys.

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