Teletype catching fire [was: technical question]

Tony Arnold tony.arnold at
Mon May 23 13:47:24 UTC 2005

On Mon, 2005-05-23 at 13:11 +0200, Vincent Trouilliez wrote:
> > Not so much because of the noise, more because it was difficult to type
> > at any real speed on these things. The old ASR-33 teletype was a
> > mechanical marvel, but the travel on the keys when you pressed them was
> > huge by today's standards, and stiff. Also, the things communicated with
> > the computer at 330 baud, yes just 33 characters per second!
> > 
> > We also had one that caught fire, but that's another story!
> > 
> > Ah, nostalgia! It ain't what it used to be:-)
> Come on, what's the story ?! :o)

It's not that much of a story really. Back in the late 70's I was
working for a team here at the University writing operating systems (the
system was called MUSS and is described in a couple of papers in
Software Practise and Experience, Volume 9, Number 8, August, 1979).

We had a machine whose main interface was one of these ASR-33 teletypes.
These things are highly mechanical and driven by a largish electric

The nature of the work was such that we did most of our development over
night and to keep the team informed, everything was recorded in a log

I came in one morning when my colleagues had been working through the
night to discover that the teletype had been replaced and there was a
note in the log book saying 'terminal caught fire'. The entry was timed
somewhere near to 5 o'clock in the morning.

It seems that all this night work was just too much for this device, and
the motor burned out creating a deal of smoke and even more worry for my

The teletype got replaced by a VDU (really modern). The problem I then
had was I spent months getting the driver for this VDU to work properly.

So there you have it.

Tony Arnold, IT Security Coordinator, University of Manchester,
Manchester Computing, Kilburn Building, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL.
T: +44 (0)161 275 6093, F: +44 (0)870 136 1004, M: +44 (0)773 330 0039
E: tony.arnold at, H:

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