Thursday, December 20, 2018

Get the kids a Think-A-Tron for Christmas 1961

I had so much fun delving into for the Charlie Brown post that I thought I'd do it again.

Fifty-seven years ago, the Think-A-Tron was advertised as a Christmas present in the December 18, 1961, issue of the Statesman Journal of Salem, Oregon. It was part of a four-day sale at Pay Less Drug Store.1 According to the advertisement, the Think-A-Tron was an electronic question and answer computer game. "The machine that thinks like a man — feed it questions and it answers them."


So, in addition to being sexist and thinking "like a man", it was kind of like Google. But without the SEO drama. The $10 price was discounted all the way down to $6.44 a week before Christmas. But that was still the equivalent of more than $53 today, according to the trusty old Inflation Calculator, so it was a pricey gadget!

According to the System Source Computer Museum, which has a nice photo of the Think-A-Tron, it came out in 1960 and required two D batteries. Users would "pick a punched computer card with the multiple-choice question (A,B,C, T or F) to be answered. Then feed it to the machine, push the button and the computer starts whirring. Wheels turn, lights flash and within seconds the correct answer appears on the screen!" So the thinking and remembering parts might have been a little oversold. HAL 9000, it wasn't.

There are some additional good closeups of the machine, which was offered by Hasbro, on the website Flashbak. It seems to have more knobs and dials than were actually needed for something that's just reading a punch card. But that was, of course, part of the thrill and magic.

On Flashbak, one commenter stated: "I was trying to think of one of my all-time favorite Christmas presents from when I was a little kid in the early 1960's. It was Think-a-Tron... I thought it was such an awesome gift. Thanks for taking me back to better times."

Here's a dandy YouTube demonstration of the toy...

I checked eBay and there are some original Think-A-Trons available for prices ranging from $30 to $100, if you have a hankering for a bit of computer history.

1. Other toys included in the Pay Less Drug Store sale were: Matey and Sister Bell talking dolls; the Horsman "Butter-Cup" doll (drinks, wets, cries real tears); the Bridge and Turnpike Building Set (605 pieces); the Fantastic Sno-Cone Machine; Magi-Cutter Outfits; and the Shark Racer.

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