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(Image: Texas Instruments)
1977 — Texas Instruments TI-59 programmable calculator
The year was 1977, and Texas Instruments released a device that was a scientific calculator at its core, but so much more. The TI-59 had a lot of firsts inside: solid-state ROM cartridges, magnetic memory strips for storing programs, and a printer module that produced hardcopies of technical programs.
The TI-59 was primarily used in technical endeavors such as engineering. Many of the cartridges had basic programs used in specific industries to simplify complex calculations of a repetitive nature. User's clubs sprang up worldwide, where programs were traded with glee.
Many of my early days as a geophysicist were spent hunched over the TI-59, running calculations simplified by programs loaded by reading various memory strips. The strip reader was a bit fussy, and it sometimes took several tries to get the little programs to load properly.
Clipping the TI-59 to the thermal PC100C printer module (pictured above) made it possible to save results to paper, an unusual feature for programmable scientific calculators. This feature, coupled with the memory card reader and the ROM cartridge, set the stage for computers with similar I/O capabilities.
TI59.com is a good source to see the full history of the TI-59.