General Science, Mathematics, and Technology


What were floppy disks?

The first floppy disk drive was invented by Alan Shugart (1930–2006) in 1967 at IBM. Floppy disks, also called diskettes, were made of plastic film covered with a magnetic coating, which were enclosed in a nonremovable plastic protective envelope. Floppy disks varied in storage capacity from one hundred thousand bytes to more than two megabytes. The three common floppy disk (diskette) sizes varied widely in storage capacity.

Envelope size (inches) Storage capacity
8 100,000–500,000 bytes
5.25 100 kilobytes–1.2 megabytes
3.5 400 kilobytes-more than 2 megabytes

An 8-inch or 5.25-inch diskette was enclosed in a plastic protective envelope, which did not protect the disk from bending or folding; parts of the disk surface were also exposed and could be contaminated by fingerprints or dust. These diskettes became known as “floppy” disks because the packaging of the 5.25-inch disk was a very flexible plastic envelope. The casing on a 3.5-inch floppy disk was rigid plastic, and included a sliding disk guard that protected the disk surface, but allowed it to be exposed when the disk was inserted in the disk drive. This protection, along with the increased data storage capacity, made the 3.5-inch disk the most popular. Zip® disks were very similar to floppy disks but the magnetic coating was of much higher quality. They were able store up to 750 megabytes of data.

By the mid–1990s, floppy disks and Zip® disks had become obsolete as computer files and memory required larger storage and computers were no longer being manufactured with floppy disk drives. These disks can still be accessed by using an external floppy drive reader with a USB connection.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Science Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App