CHM Releases New Oral Histories of Japanese Hard Disk Pioneers

May 14, 2018 — Mountain View, CA

Computer History Museum (CHM), the world's leading institution exploring the computing revolution and its impact on the human experience, announced today the public release of six video-recorded oral histories of key engineers and scientists from Japan who made seminal contributions to the magnetic recording technologies used in hard disk drives.

Hard disk drives were invented by IBM in the United States in the mid-1950s and have formed the backbone of high-speed random access storage for over six decades: today's hard disk drives share many of the same components—albeit greatly refined—as the first 1956 RAMAC (random access method of accounting and control) disk drive from IBM. Japanese computer manufacturers Hitachi, Fujitsu, and NEC entered the market during the 1960s, and by the late 1970s, the Japanese government identified the hard disk drive market as strategically important. To advance its position, Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) encouraged the establishment of inter-company cooperation as well as joint industry-academic efforts in magnetic recording. The origins and development of these efforts resulted in breakthroughs that have become ubiquitous in all hard disk drives used today and are captured in this new oral history series.

These six oral histories, conducted in Japan in 2016 by the CHM Storage Special Interest Group (SIG), encompass the research, development, and initial commercialization of glass substrates, perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) disk drives as well as PMR heads and disks, and MgO-based tunneling magnetoresistive (TMR) heads. Project participant and renowned industry scientist Chris Bajorek said, “I was pleased to have been part of the effort to interview key Japanese contributors to the advancement of magnetic recording technology and products. Their contributions have been adopted in all hard disk drives worldwide. I am especially thankful to Dr. Yoichiro Tanaka and Toshiba for their partnership in this project. They organized and hosted the visit to Japan. Dr. Tanaka also interviewed several of the individuals and was himself interviewed as well.”

Two of these oral histories were conducted in Japanese and the other four were conducted in English. Transcripts are available here:
1. Shunichi Iwasaki on the history of PMR:
Japanese language video
English transcript
Japanese transcript

2. PMR inventor team panel, Yoshihisa Nakamura and Hiroaki Murakora:
Japanese language video
English transcript
Japanese transcript

3. PMR Head and Media oral history panel, Hiroshi Sakai, Yoichiro Tanaka and Koichi Terunuma:
English language video
English transcript

4. TMR Head oral history panel, Hiroki Maehara, Chang Man Park, Koichi Terunuma, and Naoki Watanabe:
English language video
English transcript

5. Isao Suzuki on glass media:
English language video
English transcript
Japanese transcript

• 6. Yoichiro Tanaka on the industry’s first PMR hard disk drive:
English language video
English transcript

Hard disk drives transformed computing when they first appeared in the mid-1950s, allowing computers to access data from any storage location instead of using the tedious punched card methods of the 1920s. “The hard disk drive enabled real-time transaction processing and updating of information. Today we rely on hard disk drives to store nearly everything about ourselves,” said Dag Spicer, senior curator at CHM. But the journey from those early days to now relied on solving complex and hard-won technical challenges with new inventions from contributors around the world.

See our website for more information about the history of storage and for more information on the CHM Storage SIG, including links to additional storage oral histories, click here.

About the Computer History Museum
The Computer History Museum (CHM) in Mountain View, California, is a nonprofit organization with a four-decade history as the world's leading institution exploring the computing revolution and its impact on the human experience. The Museum is home to the largest international collection of computing artifacts in the world, encompassing computer hardware, software, documentation, ephemera, photographs, and moving images. The Museum brings computer history to life through large-scale exhibits, an acclaimed speaker series, a dynamic website, docent-led tours, and an award-winning education program. For more information and updates visit computerhistory.org.


Press Contacts:

Carina Sweet 650.810.1059 csweet@computerhistory.org