The Relay Clock Display

Digital readouts, probably from an aviation display

I recall seeing displays similar to this in elevators when I was very young, but it appears that these digital readouts came from a cockpit display or some other instrument. It seems rather impractical to me today, but digital displays were difficult to make back then, especially for the rugged environments found in aviation. I found a display similar to this being offered at a surplus site.

A front and rear view of a surplus aircraft readout. There was only one available, at a price of $150!

The basic idea is that there are ten light bulbs for each display digit. One of them is energized and lights up. It projects a numeric image onto a screen.

In this clock, the relay contacts direct a voltage to select a display digit. The relay coils operate at voltages of 12V, 24V, and 110V, but the display uses light bulbs that run at 6.3V, a common voltage used for vacuum tube filaments and pinball machine lights. You can see why 6.3 was a popular voltage, right?

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Cathode Rays

The 100th anniversary of the cathode ray tube.

This is the first of three posts describing a now-(nearly)-obsolete technology.

Thomas Edison nearly discovered them.  In his experiments with heated filaments in evacuated glass bulbs trying to find a suitable incandescent lamp, there were hints.  He noticed depositions of material on the walls of the glass tubes.  Many scientific discoveries are preceded not by the expression “Eureka”, but instead by the comment: “Hmm, that’s funny”.  If he had followed up on this odd result, he might have also invented the vacuum tube amplifier.

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