Lisp Machine Keyboards

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

To understand the history of lisp machine keyboards, you must know some history of lisp machines.

Lisp Machines are computers (hardware) designed to run lisp programing language efficiently.

  1. CONS machine. First lisp machine. At MIT.
  2. 1974. CADR machine. 2nd generation of CONS. 25 prototype were sold.
  3. 1981. Symbolics LM-2, commercial version of CADR. About 100 are made.
  4. 1981. LMI-CADR, commercial version of CADR by LMI (LMI is Lisp Machines Inc).
  5. 1983. Symbolics 3600.
  6. 1983. LMI-LAMBDA (about ~200 sold).
  7. Symbolics 3640, xl1200, MacIvory, and others.
  8. Texas Instruments, Explorer, MicroExplorer.
  9. Xerox, Innterlisp-D workstation. • Xerox 1100, Dolphin (1979) • Xerox 1132, Dorado • Xerox 1108, Dandelion (1981) • Xerox 1109, Dandetiger • Xerox 1186/6085, Daybreak

Lisp Machine pretty much stopped in 1990, due to, onset of Personal Computer that are cheaper and faster, and “AI Winter” (industry's failed expectation of AI research).

2018-07-11 Wikipedia Lisp machine

SAIL Keyboard

SAIL Keyboard. (SAIL = Stanford AI Lab.)

SAIL keyboard b1c80-s306x204
SAIL Keyboard

The Knight Keyboard

This is the first lisp machine keyboard, probably took inspiration from the SAIL keyboard, because the color theme, and many keys and layout, are similar.

Knight keyboard. Made around 1974. This keyboard is used for the CADR Lisp Machine (and possibly also the CONS lisp machine)

lisp knight keyboard-s339x184
Knight Keyboard

CADR keyboard

This is used by Lisp Machine Inc's LMI-CADR, around 1981 and i think also by Symbolics LM-2 lisp machine.

lmi-cadr keyboard 1st gen space cadget 31997-s289x217
Lisp Machine LMI-CADR keyboard

Space-Cadet Keyboard

This is the famous Space-cadet Keyboard, year 1981.

It is the most famous lisp keyboard because its the most exotic.

Space Cadet keyboard 2
Space-Cadet, 1981

Symbolics Keyboard PN 364000

This model is used with Symbolics 3600 machines. Year 1983.

symbolics keyboard pn364000 mrq3w
symbolics keyboard pn364000 [image source]
symbolics keyboard pn364000 2254c-s1386x1039
symbolics keyboard pn364000 4032×3024 [image source reddit by arrowplum]
Symbolics keyboard
Symbolics Keyboard PN 364000. (Photo by webwit At Used with permission.)

Symbolics keyboard PN 365407

This model comes after the PN 364000, and is compatible to it.

This is used in Symbolics 36xx series, perhaps around 1985.

There are 3 revisions, A, B, C. Rev C had LEDs in the Caps Lock and Mode Lock keys.

Rev A

symbolics keyboard pn 365407 rev A 26717
Symbolics keyboard pn 365407 rev A [image source, by webwit]
symbolics keyboard pn 365407 rev A f950b
Symbolics keyboard pn 365407 rev A [image source, by webwit]
symbolics keyboard 365407 rev A vs 364000
Symbolics keyboard, 365407 rev A (top) and the previous generation pn 364000 (bottom). The new one is more compact. [image source, by webwit]

Rev C

Symbolics's Lisp Machine keyboard PN 365407 Rev C. (Photo by Joey Devilla. Used with permission.)
Left side.

Rub Out key

2017-05-18 ScottBurson wrote

On an ASR33 Teletype, backspace simply moved the carriage one character position to the left.

Rubout was a different concept entirely. The ASR33 had a paper tape punch and reader. The Rubout character was 0x7F, i.e., it had all bits set. So, to “rub out” an erroneous character from the paper tape, you could back the tape up in the punch to the desired character (by pressing a button on the punch; there was no character that invoked this function) and hit Rubout; this would punch the tape at all seven holes, changing whatever character had been there to a Rubout. (The software ignored Rubout characters on input.)

When the world moved on from Teletypes, it was natural for people to want a single keystroke that meant “delete the previous input character”. But there was evidently some divergence of opinion in the industry as to whether that should be Backspace or Rubout — notwithstanding that the ASR33's concept of Rubout didn't really map at all onto the new hardware.

[2017-05-19 from]

2017-05-18 kps wrote:

notwithstanding that the ASR33's concept of Rubout didn't
really map at all onto the new hardware.

If you are working with paper tape, Rubout (DEL in ASCII parlance), like every other code, advances the tape when punched. So, if the tape is a stream of characters, DEL erases the one under the cursor and leaves the cursor on the character formerly to the right. That is, Rubout/DEL is defined as a ‘forward delete’ operation, and that's something that remains useful. That leaves Backspace as the natural choice for entering ‘backward delete’ on a keyboard, at least after 1979 when you have the ANSI X3.64 escape sequences for explicitly nondestructive cursor keys. I think there's a reasonable argument for Backspace being nondestructive for overstrike effects (accents, underlining, APL, etc.), especially when received by a terminal, but I know none for changing the meaning of DEL.

Right side. Note the dedicated parenthesis keys.

Xerox 1109 lisp keyboard

This keyboard is for Xerox 1109 lisp machine. Year ~1982.

xerox 1109 lisp keyboard 70302
Xerox 1109 lisp keyboard [Photo by Marcin Wichary]

Racal-Norsk KPS-10 Lisp Prototype Keyboard

Racal-Norsk KPS-10 keyboard 1-s303x206
Racal-Norsk KPS-10 Lisp Prototype Keyboard

Lisp Machine Keyboard USB Driver

2018-07-12 by Mike McMahon (aka MMcM)

Lisp Machine Keyboards

  1. SAIL Keyboard
  2. Lisp Machine Keyboards
  3. Knight Keyboard
  4. Space-Cadet Keyboard
  5. Lisp Machine LMI-CADR keyboard
  6. Racal-Norsk KPS-10 Lisp Prototype Keyboard
  7. Hyper 7 Keyboard
  8. History of Emacs and vi Keys
Did i $save$ you from getting a brick?

$5 me, at patreon
or paypal to

If you have a question, put $5 at patreon and message me.

  1. Ergo Keyboards
  2. PC Keyboards
  3. Fun Keyboards
  4. Keypads
  5. Do-It-Yourself
  6. History
  7. Design
  8. Layout
  9. Keybinding
  10. Typing
  11. Key How-To
  12. Mouse
  13. Trackball
  14. Misc
  15. Blog