Sorry about the lack of articles. This one is longer than usual and took time to write. I hope you enjoy it.
Wang Laboratories was founded in 1951 by An Wang and G. Y. Chu. Several years earlier, Wang had patented an improvement for computer memory and sold the patent to IBM for $500,000. He used that money to found Wang Labs.
One of the first products created by Wang was a series of calculators. The Wang LOCI-2 was the “first desktop calculator capable of computing logarithms, which was quite an achievement for a machine without any integrated circuits”. (The initials stood for LOgarithmic Computing Instrument.) The LOCI-2 was punched-card programmable and had “four non-volatile (magnetic core memory-based) store/recall memory registers”. The subsequent LOCI-2A had 16 memory registers, each was capable of holding “a single number including sign and floating decimal point location”. Over time, Wang added to their line of calculators, but ultimately left the market after Japanese companies flooded that market with low-cost calculators that took advantage of integrated circuits.
Wang used this experience creating calculators to get into the computer business. The first of which was the Wang 2315 Online Computing System. At the time, DEC has introduced their PDP-8 minicomputer. Dr. Wang wanted his company to replace DEC as the #1 minicomputer company, with the ultimate goal of taking some of the Big Blue’s (IBM) business, as well. The Wang 4000 was the first step towards that goal. Unfortunately, the 4000 did not do well sales wise for two reasons: the marketing team was not sure how to sell a minicomputer and the calculator division released several improvements to the Wang 300 line that drew interest away from the 4000.
Dr. Wang wanted his company to replace DEC as the #1 minicomputer company, with the ultimate goal of taking some of the Big Blue’s (IBM) business, as well.
Dr. Wang has his engineers focus on creating a successor to the 4000 to help capture the market. Those efforts when hampered when HP released the phenomenal 9100A calculator in 1968. The 9100A was light-years ahead of any Wang products. The company quickly switched focus back to calculators as customers flocked to HP. Sadly, it took time to design and manufacture a new calculator. The Wang 700 went into productions in early 1970, but some impatient customers canceled their orders and bought HP 9100Bs. (The 9100B has double the memory.)
As the years went by, Wang has several more false starts to their computer business. Their first real success with the Wang 2200 system. Released in 1973, the 2200 stood apart from other computers because “it had a CRT in a cabinet that also included an integrated computer-controlled compact cassette storage unit and keyboard”.
According to wang2200.org:
“The machine had a capable BASIC interpreter in ROM, meaning it could be turned on and used within seconds. It was dedicated to the needs of a single person at any one time. The 64x16 CRT display made editing and running programs interactive and immediate, vs. the then-standard method of studying printouts on greenbar paper. The 2200 was also expandable; eventually nearly 100 different peripherals were developed for the system…New models were produced for nearly 20 years before Wang ended development.”
Rick Bensene wrote the following for oldcalculatormuseum.com:
“Successes of the 2200, along with Wang's new Word Processing Systems, allowed Wang to let its calculator business decline gracefully, leading to the beginning of a long line of successful mainframe, mini, and later, micro-computer systems that made Wang a serious player in the computer industry for years to come. While Wang never became a serious challenger to Digital Equipment, and remained a mere speck on IBM's radar, the evolution of Wang's computer business from that of providing customized process control and testing systems, to a solid participant in the computer marketplace of the 1980's, is a great reflection of the commitment, leadership, brilliance, and persistence of Dr. An Wang and his company.”
Ultimately, Wang was never the threat to IBM that he want to be. The company was generally successful under Dr. Wang’s leadership. Eventually, he handed the reigns of business to his son Fred in 1986. (Dr. Wang’s goal was to create a family run company that would last for years.) Fred made a series of poor decisions, including: “In a single day in October 1983, the company announced 14 separate products, most notably a computer that could scan, store, and deliver paper documents throughout the office using a digital imaging system. Most of the products announced, however, did not ship for various reasons, in part because they weren't ready.”
There had been concerns about Fred from the beginning, as an 1992 Computerworld piece pointed out:
For years, there have been quiet concern about Fred. Members of the board of directors had worried that Fred did not have the experience, the judgment—the overall heft—to lead the company. Ever since the middle of the 1980s, outside directors had made repeated efforts to persuade the Doctor to bring in a professional manager—to give Fred an impressive title if needed but to avoid placing the young man in operational control of this sprawling, worldwide corporation in the thick of the most competitive industry on earth.
An Wang would not yield. To the directors he said: "He is my son. He can do it."
Dr. Wang, who was in ill health at the time, was forced to take back control of the company and fire his son. Dr. Wang died in 1990. His company filed for bankruptcy two years later.
The company tried to reinvent itself by focusing on network services. In 1999, they were acquired by Getronics of The Netherlands and became known as Getronics North America. In 2007, the Dutch telecom company KPN bought Getronics. The following year, Getronics North America was sold to CompuCom of Dallas, Texas.
You can check out more information about Wang products here and here.
In 1961, IBM entered the typewriter market with the Selectric typewriter. Wang decided that they would do the same. They examined an IBM "MT/ST" (Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter). They realized that their Wang 500 calculator filled all the requirements. All they had to do was rewrite the microcode so that it would function as a word processor instead of a calculator. The final result was announced in 1971 as the Wang 1200 line. Unfortunately, 80% of the orders for the 1220 were canceled due to an issue with the IBM Selectric that was part of the system.
The next version was the Wang 1222 released in 1975. This model added a CRT monitor, so a line could be viewed and edited before with was printed. Sales for the 1200 family were low, with one source noting that 3,000 were sold.
The same year that the Wang 1222 was released, two engineers (Harold Koplow and Dave Moros) wrote a manual for a word processor that they wished that they had. They presented the idea to Dr. Wang, and he gave them permission to build it. The Wang Word Processing System (WPS) was released in June 1976. It was a success. Wang’s sales tripled over the next three years, mostly because of their word-processing products.
WPS was succeeded by Wang Office Information System. Wikipedia has the following to say about OIS:
“The OIS was a multi-user system. Each workstation looked like a typical terminal but contained its own Intel 8080 microprocessor (later versions used a Z80) and 64 KB of RAM (less than the original 1981 IBM PC). Disk storage was centralized in a master unit and shared by the workstations, and the connection was via high-speed dual coaxial cable "928 Link".”
The wang1200.org site says:
“OIS had even more capable word processing capabilities, a general programming language for more technically adept customers, and greater networking options. Each component in the system, terminal, file server, printer, contained memory and a microprocessor, and were well thought out to allow a customer to configure a system anywhere from an individual word processing station to a fully networked office.”
In the 1980s, Wang dominated the word processor market. However, they started to lose market share with the advent of personal computers that could perform multiple functions. With the release of the IBM PC, Wang lost its leadership position and never regained it.
Even Stephen King had a Wang.
Unfortunately, I could not find any reviews of Wang word processors. If you want to read more, here are some links about the Wang word processors:
Operator’s Manual for a Wang 2200
A guy recently restored a Wang 5503
A brochure for Wang Word Processing
Even Stephen King had a Wang.
Did you ever use a Wang word processor? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Edit: A reader shared the following video of a Wang 5503 being restored:
Computer Ads from the Past is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
What computer ads would you like to see in the future? Please comment below. If you enjoyed, please share with your friends and relatives. Thank you.
I never used a Wang computer, but wow, those commercials are incredible!
In the early 1990s I worked in IT for a law firm in Seattle that had a Wang system. I wish I could remember what it was, other than a "Wang VS." It had development as well as distributed word processing capabilities (my boss programmed in Speed 2 on the Wang). To me, the most memorable part of the system was doing backups on removable, multi-platter disk packs.
I was actually hired to help move the firm from Wang to a Novell network. My boss never really liked PCs, and was eventually let go due to his attitude.