Photo of Reynold B. Johnson

Reynold B. Johnson

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Computer Science

Introduction and development of magnetic disk storage for computers that provided access to virtually unlimited amounts of information in fractions of a second and is the basis for time sharing systems and storage of millions of records. Over $10 billion in annual sales and over 100,000 jobs arose from this development.

Reynold B. Johnson’s first notable invention would be familiar to anyone who has taken a standardized multiple-choice test. In 1932, when he was a high school science teacher in Michigan, Johnson devised and built an electromechanical device for automatically checking and grading pencil-marked multiple-choice tests, but he had no initial success marketing the idea to manufacturers.

In 1934, I.B.M. reassessed Johnson’s invention and hired him as an engineer—his first invention is now used everywhere for standardized testing. With IBM, he produced hundreds of inventions, many relating to the handling, punching and reading of key-punch cards, then the primary means of storing computer data. IBM tasked Johnson and his research team with inventing more efficient ways of storing data. Johnson turned to magnetic discs, which he thought in time could be made smaller and more reliable. He developed the first computer hard drive with magnetic disk storage, which weighed a ton and stored 5 megabytes of data.

Johnson’s invention sparked a prolific industry. Today, more than 6,000 people are working at the 356-acre site of IBM’s San Jose Systems Development Division laboratory and Systems Manufacturing Division plant, where their main mission continues to be developing and producing direct access storage equipment for computers.

By Jennifer Santisi