First UNIVAC delivered… #history


Excerpt from The PC Pioneers

On this day in 1951 the first UNIVAC mainframe computer was delivered

J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly had founded EMCC to build mainframe computers but it became embroiled in the McCarthy witch-hunt when it was adjudged to employ engineers with communist leanings.  The company lost the right to do government work and Mauchly himself was banned from company property.  It took a long two years before he was cleared.


Eckert and Mauchly

What was still essentially a start-up operation was unable to achieve funding for its plans.  There were two potential buyers in NCR and Remington Rand and the latter suitor was the first to propose an acceptable offer, acquiring EMCC and renaming it the Univac division of Remington Rand in 1950.

This was too late to assist with the work on the 1950 Census which was actually run on a prototype from the EMCC premises.

UNIVACApparently when the Census Bureau visited EMCC for the acceptance tests of the system they were taken off for lunch while the UNIVAC computer ran the program.  In their absence the finished results were captured onto a tape and this was put to one side for their return.

When the meeting reconvened and the operator ran the tape after lunch he accidentally erased it!  Unfazed he ran another program that showed off all the bells and whistles of the UNIVAC and ran for approximately the same length of time – and no one noticed.  Respect, or was it a very liquid lunch?

In fact the serial number #1 UNIVAC was not effectively installed at the Census Bureau premises for another twenty months – on 31 March 1951 – it was formally signed over to the user in June 1951

An early UNIVAC sold to the Atomic Energy Commission was subsequently put to a very novel use.  The A C Nielsen research organization used it to correctly forecast the 1952 presidential election for CBS TV.

Nationwide polls had forecast a close-run contest but by 8:30pm with just a few million votes tabulated the Univac was forecasting a landslide victory.  Fearful of error, it was decided to run the computation a second time before announcing this.  At 9:15 pm it still showed a strong lead and correctly forecast that Dwight D Eisenhower would become the 34th president of the United States.

General Electric set a task for Arthur Andersen (today called Accenture) and its project leader Joe Glickauf. It asked for advice on automating payroll processing for its Louisville, Kentucky plant.

The Arthur Andersen recommendation was to install a UNIVAC 1 computer.  This was the first commercially-owned computer and Glickauf was subsequently heralded by his organisation and others as the’ father of computer consulting’.

The UNIVAC 1 sold originally for just over $150,000 but this rapidly rose to c$1.5m; forty-six UNIVAC systems were eventually sold.

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