When Apple and other companies advanced the personal computer revolution in the 1980s, Cannon connectors were an essential component.
In the 1980s nothing transformed lives quite like personal computers, which broke free from the confines of corporate cool rooms and became staples on business desks and in home offices.
Cannon connectors helped make this transition possible. Our D-subminiature connectors, which ITT Cannon invented in the 1950s and named for their distinctive D-shaped casings, were standard equipment inside the large mainframe computers that filled entire rooms at many businesses. When the 1980s arrived – and the reality of smaller machines took hold – our Cannon team engaged with customers, modifying connectors to improve computers and peripherals. One of the big breakthroughs occurred after the FCC demanded that computers limit radio frequency emissions to avoid interfering with nearby electronics, Cannon stepped up with a new D subminiature adaptor that reduced emissions and helped manufacturers avoid costly redesigns.
Cannon glimpsed the bright global future, as did Time magazine, which opted to name computers “Machine of the Year” in 1982 instead of naming a “Man of the Year.” Soon after that historical machine-over-man issue hit the newsstands, Cannon introduced a game-changing D subminiature: a plastic model that cost less, saved printed circuit board space, offered quick-click connecting, didn’t need screws and reduced short-circuits. Reporters in the electronics press breathlessly covered Cannon’s advances, repeatedly according the company’s innovations front-page honors.
That same year, we took our connector prowess to Taiwan’s prestigious Electronics ’82 show. The connector business had been surging 20 percent annually in that country, presaging the region’s enormous impact on computer manufacturing, and Cannon staked its claim in Asia as the go-to connector source.
Racing to miniaturize
By 1984, Cannon had caught the “smaller, faster, lighter, more durable” fever gripping manufacturers. Microsoft and Apple were shrinking machine size as their ambitions ballooned: Apple’s blockbuster “1984” Macintosh commercial debuted during the Super Bowl that year, showcasing its device as a revolutionary route to personal power. People wanted computers badly, but they wanted convenience, economy and looks, too, as Apple’s Steve Jobs knew well. IBM’s expensive 5120 model from 1980 suddenly looked like a dinosaur --- literally – weighing in at more than 100 pounds, not even including its clunky 130-pound disk drive.
Our Cannon team responded with ever smaller, stronger connectors. Debuting at a Boston trade show in 1984, Micro/IDC connectors were 50 percent smaller and lighter than predecessors yet performed even better. These upstarts simplified assembly, too, connecting quickly with little force. Cannon’s value-added models impressed eager manufacturers because they streamlined design and assembly while shrinking computer contours. Cannon rapidly rolled out higher density connectors, connectors that withstood robotic assembly, and rugged connectors that shrugged off bumps without breaking.
Supercomputers that gigaflop
ITT Cannon’s technology boom impressed visionary Seymour Cray, the man behind Cray Research. Cannon and Cray had been a tight team since 1972, when Cannon customized a standard connector for Cray’s high-speed mainframe supercomputer. In 1986, that collaboration blossomed and by 1988 Cray had fashioned the world’s fastest supercomputer, capable of sustaining a gigaflop – one billion operations per second - across applications with the help of our innovative connectors.
As the 1980s headed for an end, the world stopped marveling that computers stored information and started worrying how much and how safely they stored it. As usual, Cannon was on the case, swiftly designing better connectors that easily disengaged storage systems and disk drives from computers. Previously, connectors weren’t made to withstand frequent disconnects. One customer had been wheeling an entire computer into a locked vault nightly to secure its disk drive. While the decade was winding down, the energy of Cannon engineers was ramping up, leading to even innovations, such as connectors that reduced interference and improved video quality on computers.
While personal computers had a definite “wow factor” in the 1980s, our Cannon team was busy providing solutions for other historic events. During the decade, our connectors were used to test the world’s first undersea optical fiber cord for telecommunications, our parallel interconnects helped make flat-screen TVs possible, and Cannon connectors helped televise the world’s most-watched wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Steve Jobs, the man most responsible for the personal computer revolution made that statement, and in the 1980s, ITT Cannon proved again that our company definitely belongs in the first group.
Next time, we look at the 1990s when Cannon moved into evolving telecommunications and computing industries. Click here to view our “A Century of Amazing Connections” that outlines the milestones throughout Cannon’s history.