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UNIVAC

During the late 1940’s and early 1950’s Dr. J. Presper and Dr. John W. Mauchly developed the Universal Automatic Computer, UNIVAC. Commissioned by the Census Bureau, the two sought to create a super-computer that no longer utilized the card-punching methods of earlier times.

The production was grueling. Presper and Mauchly had grosely underestimated the cost of the project. The Census Bureau refused to give them any more money and was very skeptical about the progress they had seen. It appeared that the project was headed for collapse when
a hero emerged. Remington Rand, the prestigious typewriter company, saw the floundering project as an investment opportunity. They purchased the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation in 1950;the purchase gave Mauchly and Presper the financing they needed to complete the UNIVAC I.

Production from start to finish lasted four long years, so it was no wonder that critics and skeptics were amazed when the team delievered a completed UNIVAC I on March 31, 1951 to the United States Census Bureau.The long-awaited supercomputer cost nearly $1,000,000 to produce;it occupied 352 square feet and used 5,400 vacuum tubes to process information. Its effieciency and data processing capabilities were exceptional for the time.Despite its prowess, many corporations were unwilling to embrace the new computer, but that all changed after the 1952 presidential election.

During the Eisenhower-Stevenson election of 1952, the computer accurately calculated the outcome of the election. Pollsters had been predicting that Stevenson would be the next president;they were sure of it.On the night of the election, a news broadcaster submitted a mock-up of the election numbers to be processed by the computer. The UNIVAC calculated the data and indicated a win for Eisenhower, however, the broadcaster refused to publicly announce the results. He feared that if the computer was wrong his network would lose its honorable reputation. Later, when the election was over and Eisenhower was victorious, the reporter appeared on national television and sheepishly explained that the UNIVAC-1 had called the election long before the true results had been tabulated.

American citizens were shocked by the abilities of the computer.The revelation that a computer could outwit and outthink educated pollsters was scary. People became fearful of automation, saying that computers would overpower the natural man. The 1952 election sparked a superstition concerning technology that would outlast the UNIVAC by decades. Next

 

For more information on UNIVAC check out the Penn Library UNIVAC Exhibit.

 

To learn more about the history of the Remington Rand Corporation, visit the Wilkpedia site.