Transistor Electronics Corporation, later known simply as TEC, Inc. was an American manufacturer. TEC should not be confused with the “TEC” “KPT-like” switches manufactured in Taiwan or with TEC Corporation of Japan.
Transistor Electronics Corporation was founded in Minnesota on the 2nd of May 1958. The Computer History Museum entry on Transistor Electronics Corporation indicates that the company was founded by Gerald Williams as a spin-off from Univac. The company used the acronym “TEC”, and the brand-name of TEC-LITE. The Data Panel name (typeset as “DATA•PANEL”) appears to have originated with their systems consoles, as shown in the Data•Panel brochure from 1964. The TEC-LITE branding appears in advertisements that mention their keyboard products.
A second Transistor Electronics Corporation was founded in Arizona on the 27th of February 1967, which is recorded as a foreign corporation (i.e. from another state) with Minnesota as a domicile state. Data Panel themselves report that the ownership of TEC (Don Hamilton and his family) moved TEC to Tucson, Arizona in the early 1970s; how exactly this relates to the creation of the Arizona business in 1967 is not known. Data Panel also reported that Cy Fernquist, one of the company principals, declined to move, and bought the Data Panel portion of the company, which remained in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This side of the business continues today as Data Panel Corporation, still in Minnesota. The current business is reported as Data Panel Corporation on their website, but is registered as Data Panel Acquisition Corporation, the result of another buyout in 1991, the year that Data Panel Acquisition Corporation was founded. The Arizona business however seems to have disappeared, possibly around 1990. Data Panel itself is now part of the German-headquartered international firm Murrelektronik.
Transistor Electronics Corporation in Arizona changed its name to TEC, Incorporated in June 1972. It appears that the parent company in Minnesota made this change significantly earlier, in April 1969.
TEC’s involvement with the computer keyboard industry is unclear, due to the relative scarcity of examples and lack of documentation. Discovered examples appear to have been constructed using switches procured from other manufacturers. Such examples are however very rare.
TEC mechanical pulse
In 1967, TEC advertised a line of keyboards with mechanical switches that produced pulse output on the downstroke. A single photograph of a switch shows a TEC-branded switch identical in operation and very similar in appearance to the Micro Switch PB Series keyboard switches, the patent for which being filed in February 1967, and found as early as 1968. Specifically, the switch is an assembly that encloses a discrete microswitch, that (if the design is the same as 1PB87x) causes the microswitch to be both engaged and subsequently released during the downstroke. An October 1967 advertisement lists the keyboards and switches separately, suggesting that the switches were available for sale individually. The rated lifetime for the switches was 10 million cycles.
These keyboards were advertised as having a solid-state encoder, capable of generating up to eight output bits.
No such keyboard is yet known to have been discovered.
TEC were to announce solid-state “transducer” keyboards at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in 1969. A single keyboard is pictured in an advertisement, but presently few details are available. The keyboard was said to use “a unique transducer with a power requirement of only 8 mW, a new solid-state contactless keyboard converts key depressions into encoded DTL/TTL-compatible data outputs.” The specific nature of this transducer is not known, nor is the relationship to the Inductive Keyboard advertised in 1980.
In Electronics magazine’s “It Happened Last Month” section for October 1970, they mentioned that TEC had introduced an optoelectronic keyboard the month before, using light beams and shutters. This product was advertised in Datamation in February 1971, with a price of $96 (down to $60 in large quantities).
TEC manufactured the Harris 8620 keyboard. All the photos of this are lost, but from the details remaining, it appears to have used Clare-Pendar switches (specifically the use of a Clare-Pendar space bar mechanism). It seems that the Harris 8620 is the same as the TEC EKA 9100-054, and an example of the EKA 9100-054 keyboard from early 1977 also uses Clare-Pendar Series S840 switches.
TEC manufactured the Harris EKA-9870 reed keyboard. The two documented examples date to around 1979–1981. One of them uses a Clare-Pendar S8810 discrete alternate action reed switch for the TTY Lock key. All other switches use non-discrete reed switches, formed from a plunger fitted into a hole in a metal plate, and a reed capsule soldered to the PCB. The source of the plunger assemblies is not known, and it is possible that these were manufactured in-house or by a contractor specifically for TEC.
TEC advertised their Inductive Keyboard in 1980, using what they call the “Pulse Transformer” principle. Structurally the switches bear some resemblance to the reed switches in the Harris EKA-9870 keyboard, in particular using holes in the PCB to guide bare plungers. There seems to be little if any mention of this product’s existence outside of the advertisements. Details are somewhat scarce. The switches are said to have a “definite switch closing point” and the design “does not rely upon an analog change”. Switch lifetime is rated at 100 million cycles, with a mean time before failure (presumably for the keyboards as a whole) of at least 45,000 hours.
TEC had previously been slated to announce solid-state transducer keyboards at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in 1969; whether the two designs were in any way related is not known.
In 1982, TEC acquired Datanetics DC-70 from ITT. Although it seems likely that DC-70 is the ITT snap-action array design, this is not proven, and no TEC keyboards are known that would match the description.
All documentation was scanned by Bitsavers unless otherwise noted.
- Keyboard advertisement, Computer Design, July 1967
- Keyboard advertisement, Computer Design, September 1967
- TEC advertisement, Computer Design, October 1967 (mentions keyboards and keyboard switches separately)
- Solid-state keyboard announcement, Fall Joint Computer Conference, Electronic Design, Vol. 17 No. 23, November 8 1969
- TEC optoelectronic keyboard mention, The Electronic Engineer, Vol. 29 No. 10, October 1970
- TEC advertisement, Datamation, February 1 1971
- Inductive Keyboard advertisement, Electronics, Vol. 53 No. 23, October 23 1980 (scanned for or by WorldRadioHistory.com)