Welcome & before you browse
Welcome and thanks for stopping by! :) This website is my passion project to document, research and write about all IBM and family keyboards - famous or not - and I hope you can learn something or simply see the majesty and diversity from the company that played a huge role in ushering in our modern computing age.
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As you may have gathered already, this website is dedicated to IBM keyboards. IBM keyboards are highly regarded by many people in the keyboard hobby, whether it's vintage folk continuing to restore and use these behemoths of the last century or modern folk who appreciate where the devices they're passionate about descended from. But, would it surprise you to hear that there's in fact a lot more than meets the eye with these keyboards? Not unlike how people are continuing to experiment with new materials, switch lubrication or switch component combinations, IBM keyboards contain a lot of nuances visually and under the surface. This website celebrates that diversity!
The keyboards this website covers can generally be summarised into seven distinct categories that constitute the main generations of IBM keyboards.
IBM Card Punch keyboards
IBM's first recognisable and unified generation of keyboards as we could recognise them today is considered to be the keyboard assemblies IBM used with their electromechanical keypunch systems, starting with the IBMs 024 Card Punch, 026 Printing Card Punch and 056 Card Verifier systems introduced in 1949. Keypunch machines were used for transcribing data or program code onto hard paper cards by punching precise holes with an operator's input, which can later be reinterpreted by another machine to load data or code. Before the heyday of the IBMs 024, 026 and 056, keypunching could be a labour-intensive hand-operated job and the electrical keypunches that did exist used tightly integrated keyboards. IBMs 024, 026 and 056 were special in that they were the first IBM keypunches with keyboards that were electrically separable as distinctive input devices in their own right. IBM began a practice of using such keypunch keyboard assemblies for non-keypunch-related systems like the ones in the following generation or the IBMs 2250 and 2260 keyboards, setting the stage for many recognisable keyboard designs and kickstarting IBM's keyboard pedigree.
IBM typewriter printer-keyboards
By 1958, IBM had started introducing terminal computers that used specialised input/output devices based on typewriter technology called a "printer-keyboard". As these were the days before CRT screens were popular, these devices used a typewriter-based printing element embedded in the keyboard itself to print output, hence their name. The printer-keyboard developed quickly after 1961 when IBM launched its famous Selectric line of typewriters known for using a whiffletree-style mechanical digital-to-analogue converter to translate a pressed key into a typed character from its "golfball" like typing element. IBM quickly began using the Selectric keyboard, Selectric typing element or both together for discrete keyboards for its period consoles and terminals, forming the bulk of the second generation of IBM keyboards. IBM also mixed in using Card Punch keyboard assemblies, resulting in various types of printer-keyboard varied on the mating of keyboard assembly to typing element. The IBMs 1052 I/O Printer-Keyboard, 1130 Computing System Console Keyboard and 2740/2741 Communications Terminal are the most well-known printer-keyboards.
IBM Elastic Diaphragm encoded keyboards
Slotting in between two larger IBM keyboard families, the seldom discussed brief third generation of IBM keyboards consisted of those using IBM Elastic Diaphragm key-switches. The elastic diaphragm switch was seemingly introduced in 1969 to replace both Card Punch and typewriter-based keyboards by eliminating the need for their complex key-stroke sensing systems. They were technically IBM's first family of keyboards that used a named switch design, which in its most common form takes an IBM Selectric keyboard element and attaches a form of membrane sensor to the typebars. As such, they were essentially an intermediate between IBM's practice of reusing said Card Punch and typewriter products to serve as keyboards for systems unrelated to both keypunching and typewriting, and self-contained switches as we know them today. The IBM 2772 Multi-Purpose Control Unit Keyboard, 5404/5406 System/3 Operator Keyboard Console and 5496 Data Recorder Keyboard are perhaps the three most common keyboards to use these switches. As you can see by their appearance, IBM Elastic Diaphgram keyboards are distinctly styled and generally take on a wedge shape.
IBM Model B keyboards
IBM Keyboard B (colloquially known as the Model B or beam spring keyboard) was IBM's fourth generation of keyboards that dominated the 1970s. Model Bs were IBM's first family of keyboards that used key-switches as you would expect today - the revered beam spring capacitive clicky switch. They completely displaced IBM's use of three separate keyboard families from the 1960s or earlier and IBM's short-lived use of keyboards with Micro Switch SW (hall effect) key-switches. IBM's keyboards were for the only time in history more or less unified under one umbrella with Model Bs employed with data entry stations, portable computers, terminal computers, operator consoles and word processing stations. Model Bs are known for being considerably large, robust and heavy, and many of them have solenoids to make them even louder and some even have compartments to store problem-solving literature for their host system. Today, they are considered by many to be the typist's 'holy grail' keyboard but they're extremely expensive, potentially cumbersome and acquiring one most likely results in the wasteful loss of a historically significant IBM terminal.
IBM Model F keyboards
IBM Keyboard F (or Model F as per their printed marketing designation) constitutes IBM's fifth generation of keyboards. They were designed to improve ergonomics, resistance to contamination with dust, and reduce the part count over the previous Model B family whilst also reducing cost. They exclusively featured IBM's famous capacitive buckling spring clicky key-switches, had well-armoured construction and spawned a diverse number of variants for various IBM personal computers, portable computers, terminals and electronic typewriters sold in the first half of the 1980s. The most well-known Model F, the IBM Personal Computer Keyboard, played a huge role in the success of the original IBM PC and in a way they're a part of the reason x86-based PCs are still dominant today. Its terminal siblings are also well sought after and regarded amongst keyboard enthusiasts. As with most IBM products of the time, Model Fs and their physical layouts were instantly treated as a standard which many IBM-compatible clone manufacturers tried to emulate. Due to the falling cost of computers around this time, Model Fs would be the last time IBM spared no expense on its keyboard designs.
IBM Model M keyboards
IBM Keyboard M (aka, Model M) was IBM's sixth major keyboard family and is perhaps the most famous, influential, enduring and once most widespread group of keyboards. Essentially a cost-saving evolution of the Model F, the average Model M with clicky membrane buckling springs or tactile buckling sleeves succeeded the Model Fs in all markets whilst retaining good enough reliability and build quality to last several decades. The definitive Model M, the IBM Enhanced Keyboard, is quite possibly the most famous keyboard of all time and is responsible for cementing the dominance of the ANSI and ISO keyboard layouts that we still use today with only minor revision. They spawned far more variants than previous generations, with Model Ms existing for the PC, laptop, workstation, terminal, server, point of sale (POS), typewriter and minor peripheral markets by the mid-1990s. IBM also experimented with integrated pointing devices and even split-keyboard ergonomics with them. Model Ms and their derivatives are still produced by Unicomp and TGCS, both legitmate successor companies to former IBM divisions and spin-offs.
The ThinkPad keyboards started as a variant of the Model M that grew into its own diverse seventh major family of IBM keyboards albeit largely limited to notebook computers. The original Model M6-1 keyboards set a high bar in the quality of portable computer keyboards upon their release, which started a pedigree that has survived to this day. Starting off with buckling rubber sleeve switches, ThinkPad keyboards have since become exclusively scissor-stabilised keyboards produced by a plethora of OEMs and are usually listed amongst the main selling points for IBM and Lenovo ThinkPads. By the 2010s, however, the original Model M6-derived line was replaced by the island/chiclet-style AccuType keyboards that whilst having vastly different layouts are still regarded as being amongst the most high-quality laptop keyboards still in production.
IBM and family
These are the companies that have made or continue to make IBM's wide range of keyboard designs. IBM designed most of their legendary keyboards in-house, but IBM has for a long time been a business that spins parts of itself off - usually when IBM and its practices become no longer profitable. However, most of their divestitures that included something relating to keyboard design retain a lot of IBM's DNA in some shape or form. IBM and the companies mentioned below have all been involved in designing and manufacturing the keyboards mentioned above.
International Business Machines Corporation was founded as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company in 1911 and for the following century, it had played a pivotal role in the development of computing and by extension modern computer keyboards. IBM's achievements are already impressive not considering keyboards, having been credited with inventing or at least played a major role in the development of ATMs, dynamic RAM, electronic keypunches, floppy disks, hard disk drives, magnetic stripe technology, relational database, scanning tunnelling microscope and SQL to name a few. IBM of course also kickstarted the x86 personal computer market that persists to this day and designed the instrument unit for the Saturn V rocket that took humanity to the Moon. Today, IBM focuses on artificial intelligence, quantum computing and services. IBM's keyboard pedigree is also impressive, with every generation of their keyboards - from their first keypunch to their last ThinkPad keyboard - making a name for itself in their respective markets and eras and are revered by many.
Lexmark International is an American company that today specialises in printers and imaging technology. It was founded in 1991 via an IBM divesture of its IBM Information Products Corporation, IBM's US-based printer, typewriter and keyboard manufacturing in Lexington, Kentucky and Boulder, Colorado. For the first five years of its operational history, Lexmark and IBM were in an agreement that saw IBM market a vast number of Lexmark products as IBM products, including keyboards. Lexmark was at the helm of the Model M family during this time and saw the introduction of many new variants including the Models M4 through M15 and fuelled IBM's widespread adoption of buckling sleeve key-switches. Lexmark was also the primary OEM for IBM's portable computer keyboards such as many early IBM ThinkPads. Lexmark also marketed its own branded keyboards and laptops called Lexmark Lexbooks, both using the IBM-originating key-switch designs. Lexmark also produced IBM-originating keyboard designs for a plethora of other companies such as AST, Better On-line Solutions (BOS), Dell, GTSI, Lynk, Reply and Tadpole.
Unicomp, Inc. is an American keyboard manufacturing company based in Lexington, Kentucky and is the sole remaining manufacturer of buckling spring Model M keyboards. It was founded in 1996 by former Lexmark (and by extension, IBM) personnel after Lexmark decided to exit the keyboard business by April of that year due to the shrinking market for high-quality/high-cost keyboards in the 1990s and IBM's decision not to renew their US-based keyboard production contract with them. Unicomp picked up the pieces of Lexmark's keyboard operations and spent the rest of the 1990s reobtaining some tooling from IBM's other factories before debuting a robust lineup of keyboards by the turn of the millennium. Unicomp quickly found footing in the role of manufacturing keyboards for other companies, mainly in the medical, point of sale, and terminal emulation sectors where high-quality or legacy-designed keyboards would be needed. The companies included Affirmative Computer Products, Bed Bath & Beyond, BOS, Decision Data, General Electric (Healthcare and Marquette) and I-O Corporation. Unicomp also produced Model Ms for IBM until at least 2007. Despite their priority towards working for other companies, they maintain a consumer-facing presence and would sell its keyboards, parts of keyboards and customised keycaps to anyone.
Lenovo Group is a Chinese company founded originally as Legend in 1984 and grew to dominate the Chinese computer market by the late 1990s. Legend renamed itself Lenovo in 2003 and then bought IBM's Personal Computing Division in 2005, creating the modern Lenovo. They further acquired IBM's x86 Server Business in 2014. Both acquisitions gave Lenovo a considerable amount of former IBM IP, including the ThinkPad family and its laptop, tablet and keyboard designs, and makes them the main spiritual descendent of the original IBM PC. Until 2012, Lenovo continued to produce ThinkPad keyboards to a similar design as their immediate IBM predecessors but then created the AccuType style of island-key keyboard designs for its laptop and tablet lines. Despite this change, Lenovo continues to be well regarded for its laptop keyboard designs. Lenovo also inherited a portion of the SK-8835/884x family of UltraNav desktop, server console and sysadmin keyboards and continued to have them produced as late as 2017.
Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions is a subsidiary of Toshiba TEC that is largely comprised of IP from IBM Retail Store Solutions, which IBM sold to Toshiba TEC in 2012. This included the only remnants of the Model M family outside of Unicomp that was still in production by that year. TGCS continues to manufacture IBM-designed and IBM-derived POS terminals, infrastructure and keyboards, the latter including the Retail series (Models M7, M7-1, M8, M9 and M11) and Modular series (67-key, MANPOS and MCANPOS Model M-e) POS keyboard designs that employ IBM buckling rubber sleeve key-switches. Toshiba quickly discontinued the Retail series by 2015, but Toshiba continues to produce Modular POS series keyboards to this day with a relatively unchanged design.
In a nutshell...
This website was created out of the discovery of a lack of a centralised resource base for the IBM keyboard enthusiast hobby when I started out in August 2019. Great resources already existed such as the deskthority wiki, YouTubers like chyrosran22, and personal websites such as kishy's, but I wanted something that could be completed in one place. The website is still in its relative infancy, but already it has begun to show its impact in the community as a valuable resource for those needing to look something up or learn more about IBM and family keyboards.
Admiral Shark's Keyboards is structured in a way to make using this website an easy, clear and guided experience. As seen on the navigation bar/menu, the main pages of this website are clear:
- Intro - (here) you meet the core keyboard families, the companies responsible for them, and a bit about this website and myself.
- Directory - list of known keyboards and where to find out more about them.
- Database - if you need specific per-part number info.
- Wiki - where the good, descriptive and properly cited stuff is.
- Articles & topics - if you're interesting in the cutting-edge research, original content, or reference material.
The level of detail and complexity generally increases with each page. Thus if you're completely new to the [IBM/vintage] keyboard hobby or IBM keyboards in general, the first pages you can visit will help give you the basic understanding needed for later.
The Keyboard Directory is an exhaustive list of IBM and family keyboards with basic information and common (usually Americas, Japan and EMEA) part numbers given and a link on where to find out more. A Yellow Pages for keyboards if you will.
Keyboard Part Number Database
Starting with the biggest and most well-known resource, the Keyboard Part Number Database is the main offering of this website. Inspiration came from the IBM part numbers page on the deskthority wiki, but I wanted to deliver a more detailed listing from a centralised database that could provide a lot more features, such as search engine-like querying, an API for external access, and the ability to develop 'applets' from using the data. And of course, I wanted to deliver more standardised data fields and include Lexmark, Unicomp, Lenovo and Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions part numbers as well.
Shark's Wiki is my own personal wiki on IBM and family keyboards, their history, the technology they employ, and the companies themselves. Development of the wiki is still in its infancy, thus the structure and quality of the wiki are subject to change.
Articles are my own opinion, research, or exploration pieces regarding one or more specific keyboards. These can be my findings when researching a particular keyboard, a comparison between two or more devices, digging inside one or more devices, or pretty standard reviews.
Topics of interest are the pure knowledge bases this website has to offer, from subjects like common questions, jargon-busting, plug and internal connections, notable external sites and pages, and recognised distinct keyboard types!
Hi, I'm Shark!
I'm a guy in his twenties from Wales, a small but beautiful country inside Britain where the valleys, sheep and several hundred castles dominate the landscape! My interest in IBM was ignited the moment I received my first laptop, a ThinkPad T21, when I was thirteen or so years old. Whilst it certainly wasn't as sleek and elegant as the other kids' PowerBooks and MacBooks, the thing felt indestructible and I was more than happy to lug around an absolute unit of a laptop! About a decade later, I finally got interested in keyboards and decided to pull the trigger on a cheap eBay listing for a 122-key Model M in the summer of 2019. And, the rest is history...
This website is a testament to my love of high-quality and interesting keyboards and dedication to this hobby! I like to think I'm the helpful sort of person, and I'm more than happy to spend time and effort building this site towards being the greatest centralised resource in the hobby! I've also happily taken on the role of moderator of r/ModelM, and I frequent the forums deskthority and geekhack.
Outside of keyboards, I'm a lover of technology in general, a huge sci-fi fan, interested in naval history, listener of heavy and thrash metal, and I'm a CompSci research student and web developer by occupation!
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- Oscar.nierstrasz - File:IBM2741.JPG [accessed 2021-07-22]. License/note: CC BY-SA 4.0.
- Martin Skøtt - File:IBM 1130 concole.ms.jpg [accessed 2022-02-04]. License/note: CC BY-SA 2.0.
- IBM - IBM 3215 Console Printer-Keyboard Component Description [accessed 2022-01-22].
- Henk Stegeman - IBM 5475 Data Entry Keyboard [accessed 2022-09-03]. License/note: used under fair dealing.
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- Computer History Archives Project - IBM Computer History: 2770 Data Communications System 1969 Announcement, vintage technology film [accessed 2022-09-03]. License/note: used under fair dealing.
- Glenn's Computer Museum - The IBM System/3 Model 6: The "Real" First IBM Personal Computer [accessed 2022-09-03]. License/note: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
- Spitzak - File:IBM 3277 Model 2 terminal.jpg [accessed 2022-02-07]. License/note: CC BY-SA 4.0 (cropped).
- TheMK#1822 - donated photos. License/note: CC-BY-NC-SA.
- Museo de Informática - R/Evolución 2010 | Equipos expuestos en UTN [accessed 2022-07-15]. License/note: CC BY-SA 2.0.
- WorthPoint - IBM 3727 Operator Console Vintage Computer 1984 KEYBOARD & CRT [accessed 2022-08-13]. License/note: saved from volatile eBay listing via WorthPoint.