IBM's MT/ST Begins "Word Processing" to Help with the Paperwork Explosion

1964 to 1967
Title frame of Jim Henson

Title frame of Jim Henson's short film produced to advertise the MT/ST.

In 1964 IBM introduced the Magnetic Tape/Selectric Typewriter (MT/ST). Using this machine typed material could be edited without having to retype the whole text or chop up a coded copy. On the tape, information could be stored, replayed, corrected, reprinted as many times as needed, and then erased and reused for other projects.

This development marked the beginning of word processing. It also introduced word processing as a concept. The term was first used in IBM's marketing of the MT/ST as a 'word processing' machine. It was a translation of the German word textverabeitung, coined in the late 1950s by Ulrich Steinhilper, an IBM engineer. He used it as a more precise term for what was done by the act of typing. "However, Thomas Haig, an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee's School of Information Studies, wrote in the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing that the English term preceded the German, though he conceded that the latter "was the first to achieve any currency".[17] Steinhilper tried to get IBM Germany interested in the concept, but without much success.[17] In 1971, when the idea finally began to be accepted, IBM gave him an Outstanding Achievement Award and a trip around the world in recognition of "having authored and promoted it." (Wikipedia article on Ulrich Steinhilper, accessed 8-2020).

IBM redefined word processing to describe electronic ways of handling a standard set of office activities -- composing, revising, printing, and filing written documents.

In 1967  IBM hired Jim Henson to make a film extolling the virtues of the the MT/ST. The film explores how the MT/ST could help control the massive number of documents generated by a typical business office. Paperwork Explosion, produced in October 1967, is a quick-cut montage of images and words illustrating the intensity and pace of modern business. Henson collaborated with Raymond Scott on the electronic sound track.

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