In 1955 the Recordak microfilm division of Kodak in New York City announced the Minicard System
, an "electronic-microfilm medium for the unit record storage and single-search retrieval of documentary information." This room-sized system may have been the ultimate development, or near the ultimate development, of the electromechanical analog systems originally invented by Emanuel Goldberg
and Vannevar Bush
for storing, indexing, and retrieving information on microfilm. It may have also been the first true commercialization of the ideas of Goldberg and Bush, since it appears that prior to the development of the Recordak Minicard system there may have been no commercially marketed electronically searchable microfilm or microfiche storage and indexing systems.
Like all microfilm products, the system was touted for its ability to store paper records in less space, but in this case with the value added of rapidly searching and retrieving information from storage. I believe that it is noteworthy that this extremely elaborate microfilm system was developed in parallel with the earliest commercial stored-program computers, and that it co-existed into at least the 1960s, and probably beyond, as a means of storing, indexing and retrieving information. It was discussed in detail in the Bagg and Stevens report, Information Selection Systems, Retrieving Replica Copies
Whether the issue of permanence of storage was raised at this time may be unclear; however, anyone interested in the issue at the time would have probably known that microfilm was a more reliable long term method of storage than the new and less-tested reel tape on which data was digitally stored at the time.
The system was described in detail in the Digital Computer Newsletter
published by the Mathematical Sciences Division of the Office of Naval Research in January 1959, as follows. That it was publicized in that format suggests that the same people who might have been exploring computers as information systems in the early days of the industry in 1959 probably had to depend upon analog systems for image storage because of technical limitations, issues of reliability, and high cost of computing at the time.
"The Minicard System is an electronic-microfilm medium for the unit record storage and single search retrieval of documentary information. The heart of the system is the Minicard film record, the "permanent" photographic memory. A tiny piece of film, measuring 16 by 32 millimeters, it combines the mobility of the tabulating card and the space-saving compactness of microfilming.
"Where a tabulating card uses punched holes for indexing and searching purposes, the Minicard fi.lm record uses black and white dots, directly exposed in the film emulsion. The film record, thirty times smaller than a standard tabulating card, has a code capacity that is five times greater.
"The film record has both the indexing code and the graphic information as a unit, producing a real, complete unified record. This is the Single-search feature of the system. The full information can be viewed on a film reader the minute it is located. Minicard film records can be "searched" at a speed of 1000 a minute. Equally important is the refiling job. These film records are simply deposited back into their respective magazines in a file block. No need to sort them in proper alphabetical or numerical sequence.
"Almost any kind of indexing system in use today - alphabetical or numerical - may be converted into the Minicard system.
"The space savings feature is even greater than in present-microfilming systems, because a ratio of reduction of 60 to 1 is used in the Minicard system. This is about fifty percent more than now available in commercial microfilming.
"The first complete Minicard system, now in use by the U. S. Air Force in the Pentagon was produced under a contract placed with Kodak by Rome Air Development Center, Rome, N. Y. The Minicard system is a continuing development of Eastman Kodak Company and will not be generally available until other government commitments are fulfilled. It will be marketed through Recordak Corporation, the Kodak microfilming subsidiary.
"Various specialized photographic, electronic, mechanical, and optical pieces of equipment are required to record, code, store, arrange, find and correlate information in the system. The Magnavox Company cooperated with Kodak in the development and construction of some components in the system. Some of the major units and pieces of equipment and their specific functions are:
"First is the film record, the tiny piece of film which is the heart of the system. Up to twelve pages of legal-size documents can be exposed on a single film record-such as charts, printed pages, maps, draWings, and even photographs. When the film record contains twelve pages, there is still space remaining for 49 characters of alpha-numeric indexing code. The fewer the number of document images on the film record, the more space there is for indexing code. Sometimes the full area may be used for indexing, with the document images to follow on other film records in sequence.
"The breakdown of classifications for file information is unlimited. As many duplicates as needed can be produced and deposited in the same number of classifications in the file. The black bar area at the left end of the film record is used for secondary classification of documentary information by adding the required code pattern on the first generation duplicate film record.
"All the classifications given for filing information are first transferred to punched tape on a Flexowriter. The same machine is used to read this code information into the Minicard Camera. It is also used to read additional code into the duplicating machine for making the working file film records. In combination with a plugboard, it is also used to read input inquiries into the selector when searching the files for rapid retrieval.
"At the camera, the punched tape is converted electronically into the code pattern on the film record. A small area of the pattern is masked out at this stage to allow space for adding additional classifying code oij. the first generation duplicates. Next, the documents are microfilmed, one at a time, recording up to 12 pages on a single film record. If a document contains more than twelve pages, extra film records are microfilmed in sequence. The 16mm film comes in 200-foot rolls.
"After a full roll of film is exposed it is developed and dried in the continuous Processor. It operates at a speed of 50 frames a minute. One 200-foot roll of film is processed in 40 minutes. Next it is inspected for image quality.
"Minicard roll film containing basic code classification and images of graphic material, are cut into the individual frames on the Cutter at a speed of 600 a minute. These are the 1st generation or original negatives. By means of slots in the end of each film record, they are stacked onto steel sticks for handling convenience.
"One of these handling sticks holds a total of 2000 film records, the capacity of a magazine in the file blocks where the master file of duplicate film records is stored for future reference. If each film record contains 12 pages of documentary information, then one stick of 2000 film records is the equivalent of 24,000 legal-size pages of information. A smaller handling stick, with the capacity of about 800 film records, is used to handle expendable duplicate film records when providing the information to answer specific questions. These may be destroyed or retained by the person inquiring after they have served their purpose.
"From the film cutter the film records are inserted in the electronic duplicator to produce 2nd generation positive duplicates. At this stage, the cross indexing code is added to each film record by means of punched tape input, passed through a reader typewriter. This is the unprecedented feature of the system which permits expanding the files to whatever extent a piece of information lends itself.
"The positive film records are now ready for sorting into the working file, the storage of information used for searching purposes. The original negative film records become the master file for security protection, never to be used except in a case of emergency to replace lost positive film records in the working file. Using a plugboard for programming, the film records are sorted into their various classifications in the working file.
"The working file of film records consists of aluminum file blocks of fifty magazines each. The capacity of each magazine is 2000 film records, same as the contents of a large handling stick. One file block then has the capacity of 100,000 film records or the equivalent of 1,200,000 document pages. A Minicard file cabinet of nine of these file blocks, therefore, has the capacity of 900,000 film records or a total of 10,800,000 document pages. Over 500 standard, letter-size file cabinets, occupying 2500 square feet of floor space, would be required to store the same amount of information on paper.
"The searching, or output operation of the system, starts first with an inquiry. This is coded by all the terms of subjects, locations, and other qualifying phrases and punched into tape to form the inquiry. A control panel plugboard is wired to establish logic conditions for an output selection and is used in conjunction with the tape. From the working file a magazine of film records, covering one of the terms of the inquiry, is removed with a handling stick and inserted in the selector. At a speed of 1000 film records a minute, the selector electronically scans the film records and separates out those containing the necessary information. These are then duplicated to provide the expendable third generation negatives for delivery to the individual seeking information.
"The expendable film records may now be viewed in the Analysis Viewer for review purposes. If hard paper copies of any of the documents are required for closer study or for the purpose of dissemination, notches are punched along the edges of the film record to indicate the desired images. A small, table top viewer is also available for reading film images in an individual's own office. After the film records have served their purpose, they may be retained on sticks for future reference or destroyed.
"The Enlarger-Processor is used to produce the hard copies of any or all images on the individual film records. The same stick of expendable third generation negatives is simply inserted in the front of the enlarger. The machine automatically reproduces and processes hard paper copies, back to original size. They come out dry at a speed of about 300 prints an hour."