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November 19, 2018

Honeywell Kitchen Computer, the $70,000 Machine That No One Bought in the Late 1960s

Original advertisement for the Kitchen Computer: “If she can only cook as well as Honeywell can compute.”

Why would anyone want a computer at home? Before the personal computer era and its avalanche of possible uses, the perennial answer was: “to store recipes.”

The Honeywell Kitchen Computer, or H316 pedestal model, of 1969 was a short-lived product offered by Neiman Marcus as one of a continuing series of extravagant gift ideas. It sold for $10,600 ($70,000 in 2018 dollars), weighed over 100 pounds (over 45 kg).

The machine itself was a 16-bit minicomputer—the class right below mainframes—and its official name was actually the H316 Pedestal. It was part of the Series 16 lineup, based on the DDP-116. The Kitchen Computer had 4KB of magnetic memory, expandable to 16KB, which was pre programmed with a few recipes. Its system clock was 2.5MHz. It took 475 watts to operate.

It was advertised as a machine for storing recipes and helping housewives in their daily domestic tasks. However, reading and introducing a recipe was a difficult if not impossible task as the computer had no display and no keyboard. It required a two-week course in order to learn how to use the machine.

Dag Spicer, curator from the Computer History Museum, said in an article at Dr. Dobbs, that in the late 1960s, “with that kind of budget, the solution would likely be a live-in chef or the traditional 3x5 card file, no?”

Intended as a daring idea for a PR campaign, the computer caught the public’s attention, their reaction exceeding the predicted output. The interest was so high that the company had to produce 20 units to be used as floor models and available for purchase. There weren’t any purchases recorded, but the Honeywell Kitchen Computer remains in history as the first exclusively consumer computer. The machinery opened the public’s taste of using technology for personal purposes and was apprehended as a step toward future trends.

(Photos via The Register)



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