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Floppy Disk (1971)

Plastics News Europe staff
Posted 12 August 2009
The first floppy disk – or ‘memory disk’ as it was dubbed by IBM – was eight inches square, made from DuPont’s Mylar coated with magnetic iron oxide. Data was written to and read from the disk’s surface. The nickname ‘floppy’ came from its flexibility. For the first time, it provided an easy means of transporting data from computer to computer.

The floppy was invented by IBM engineers led by Alan Shugart. The first disks were designed for loading microcodes into the controller of the Merlin (IBM 3330) disk pack file, a 100MB storage device. In effect, the first floppies were used to fill another type of data storage device. Overnight, additional uses for the floppy were discovered making it ‘the new program and file storage medium’.

In 1976, Shugart developed the 5.25 inch flexible disk drive and diskette for Wang Laboratories. Wang had wanted a smaller floppy disk and drive to use with its desktop computers. By 1978, more than 10 manufacturers were producing 5.25 inch floppy disk drives.

Modern floppy drives and diskettes have today evolved to a much smaller size and larger capacity. In 1980, the 3.5 inch floppy drive and diskette was introduced by Sony. During the early 1980s, many competing formats were tried to compete with the 3.5 inch drives. In time, the industry settled on the 3.5 inch format – which is now standardised and manufactured by many companies. Today’s standard 3.5 inch diskettes hold a formatted capacity of about 1.5MB, while still using the same basic technology of the second generation 8 inch drives.


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