SAIL Keyboard

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

SAIL Keyboard. (SAIL = Stanford AI Lab.) Dated 1970 or earlier.

sail keyboard 8cd7f-s1471x979
SAIL keyboard. 4708×3134 [image source flickr, by Marcin Wichary © []]

The SAIL keyboard was made by Les Earnest. (According to Les Earnest and Bruce Baumgart at Stanford)

They were installed somewhat before the Data Disc display system arrived at the AI lab in 1970.

SAIL keyboard is for the Stanford AI lab III display (a vector display) and Datadisc display (raster graphics) , connected to the PDP-10 computer running WAITS.

Note, SAIL was started in 1963 by John McCarthy (inventor of LISP programing language) , after he moved from Massachusetts Institute of Technology to Stanford.

SAIL was one of the leading centers for AI research and an early ARPANET site.

SAIL keyboard 3baa6
SAIL keyboard [Photo by Marcin Wichary [ twitter mwichary ] [ 2018-07-12 ]]

Interesting notes:

• SAIL keyboard invented the Meta and Top keys.

• short spacebar.

[see Typewriter Spacebar History]

[see Tiny Spacebar]

• There is an ALT key, but it's for entering the ASCII ESC code, same as a typewriter ALT MODE.

Alt Mode is the SAIL (Stanford AI Lab) printing character that looks like a tall thin concave hollow diamond. On ASCII keyboards the Escape key maps to Alt Mode.

[from Devon Sean McCullough ]

• The digit 0 key is to the left of 1. See this thread on a bit history of that. [ twitter mwichary ] [ 2018-07-12 ]

SAIL keyboard 96232
SAIL keyboard [Photo by Marcin Wichary [ twitter mwichary ] [ 2018-07-12 ]]

The sail keyboard was developed concurrently with the Data Disc display system and was retrofitted on the III displays. In addition to providing the traditional SHIFT and CONTROL keys, this keyboard had a TOP key that selected an alternate character for each key and a META key that could be used alone or in conjunction with the CONTROL key to give alternate meanings to various keystrokes. This permitted touch-typing of a fairly large symbol set interspersed with action commands. This keyboard was copied and used by research groups at Carnegie-Mellon University and MIT and was incorporated into several commercial products. The modern “Command” and “Option” keys on the Macintosh keyboard are direct descendants of this design.

SAIL keyboard 28106
SAIL keyboard [Photo by Marcin Wichary [ twitter mwichary ] [ 2018-07-12 ]]

2018-07-27 thanks to Lars Brinkhoff for info on SAIL keyboard. • • [2018-07-27 ]

many more old photos and info at

[Stanford keyboard #1099 By Lars Brinkhoff. At [2019-03-01 ] ]

Knight Keyboard

The SAIL keyboard inspired the Knight keyboard.

lisp knight keyboard-s339x184
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