Mainframe Computer Component, RCA 501 Tape Station

This transistorized unit was used to read, write, and erase binary characters on mylar-based magnetic tape for entry into the RCA 501 computer. The central rack assembly has components for reading, writing, and erasing magnetic tape. These include a tape transport mechanism, amplifiers, control circuits, and a power supply. This example has a single tape reel.
The rack assembly fits into a specially built cabinet, from which it could be removed. In this instance the cabinet is painted blue-gray and white. Each RCA 501 computer had at least 6 tape stations. Depending on the components selected, the entire computer system rented for $11,700 to $20,445 per month. Should a business choose to buy the system, the list price of one magnetic tape station alone was $25,000 – $30,000. This is over twice the price of a typical American single family house at the time.
The tape station is marked on the inside at the center toward the top: R58111. It is marked on the inside of the lower portion of the cabinet: RCA (/) MI SER 1515 (/) RADIO CORPORATION OF AMERICA. A plaque attached to the right side of the cabinet is marked : UNIVAC SPERRY RAND (/) SERIES 70. The form of the Sperry Rand trademark on the plaque was, according to trademark records, first used in commerce in 1967.
"Tape Station," RCA 501 Electronic Data Processing System, Catalog EDP 581, Camden, N.J.: Radio Corporation of America, 1958.
Martin H. Weik, "A Third Survey of Domestic Electronic Digital Computing Systems," Aberdeen Proving Ground: Ballistics Research Laboratories, March, 1961, pp. 778-803.
U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Historical Census of Housing Tables Home Values. Available online.
Currently not on view
Object Name
mainframe computer
mainframe computer peripheral
Date made
1959 or later
date made
RCA Corporation
overall: 69 in x 44 in x 18 in; 175.26 cm x 111.76 cm x 45.72 cm
Place Made
United States: New Jersey, Camden
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Computers
Computers & Business Machines
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Magnetic Tape Station for the RCA 501 Computer
Credit Line
Gift of Connecticut General Life Insurance
Additional Media

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