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Happy 50th Birthday, UNIVAC 1 139

Frums writes: "Today is the 50th birthday of the UNIVAC I (UNIversal Automatic Computer), the first commercial computer. It was quite a beast: 16,000 lbs, 5000 vacuum tubes measuring 9 inches by 2 inches, and an amazing 1000 instructions executed per second! The first UNIVAC was sold to the US Census bureau where it revolutionized data storage from them. No longer did they have to use punch cards, UNIVAC supported storage on metal tape! The US Census bureau still maintains a plaque commemorating the computer. It reads "Bureau of the Census dedicated the world's first electronic general purpose data processing computer, UNIVAC I, on June 14, 1951. Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation" Happy Birthday, UNIVAC I!" Wired has a brief story about it.
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Happy 50th Birthday, UNIVAC 1

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Today is the 50th birthday of the UNIVAC I..."

    Wow, I wonder how old that is in computer years...
  • #include pedantism;
    #include friendly_uk_us_rivalry;

    Depends how you define "commercial". Sure, the Univac 1 was the first computer built by a company and sold, but the actual computer did not perform commercial transactions- the owners, the US Census Bureau, were a government organisation, not a business.

    The computer that performed the world's first regular routine office job was the LEO Lyons Electric Office [] in the UK. As well as the Lyons catering firm, LEOs were used by Ford.

    My dad worked on a LEO.


  • Did you know that the M1A1 Abrams tank's armor is *actually* made out of depleted uranium? Neat, huh?

    Yes, I did. The military also uses the stuff for various ammunition. For example, the "Sea Wiz", or "CWIS", or "R2D2 with a hardon" anti-missile system mounted on larger ships fires up to 6000 rounds of depleted uranium per minute.

    When I was in the Navy, one of the ships I was one installed the ammo lockers next to the berthing compartment where us medical types slept. We were separated from the stuff by a wooden (!!!) door marked "Keep out! Radioactive material!" It was not conducive to a good night's sleep.

    Note to moderators: I know it's off-topic - hence the "OT:" in the subject. I also posted without using my +1 bonus. Moderate me down for being off-topic if you must, but it's kind of silly since I already announced it.

  • East or West coast? I was in 'Diego.

    I never really did believe the rumors that it was radiologically active, but it was something to think about whenever you walked past in the morning. I was always sure to keep my shaving kit between those doors and my nether regions when on my way to the showers.

    O,O,OT: I was in Somalia for July 4, 1994. Part of the fireworks ("Steel Beach Picnic? Party!") was R2D2 firing a chain where every 10th round was a tracer. At those rates it looked like a laser show. You wouldn't think something that big would be so amazingly nimble, but the gunner's mates had a great time programming fire patterns like "HAPPY JULY 4".

  • ...16,000 lbs, 5000 vacuum tubes measuring 9 inches by 2 inches...

    I originally parsed that as: "16,000 lbs, 5000 vacuum tubes, and 9"x2" in size.

    Holy crap! The world's heaviest palmtop!d

  • IIRC, there was a German in Nazi Germany who had planned an electronic computer, and maybe even built it

    That would have been Konrad Zuse, and he DID built several prototypes that were destroyed during allied bombings.
    Another thing is whether his machine could actually be classified as a "computer", according to academic / theoretic standards. Frankly, I don't know enough about that subject to comment. Anyone?
  • Hmmmpf. I'm sure UNIVAC programmers were some of the first to lop off the century field in every date code to save on storage space. "19 to 20 - Ha, we'll let the next generation worry about that one 49 years from now, hahahaha!!"

    Sure is a nice clean pic of the machine and attendants on the Wired site - kinda looks like an LCD screen in the middle of the console.
  • For those who are interested in the history behind the development of UNIVAC, I recommend the book:

    "From ENIAC to UNIVAC, An Appraisal of the Eckert-Mauchly Computers", by Nancy Stern.
    Published by Digital (DEC) Press, 1981.

    if you can find it. It's been out of print for years.

    The book discusses the history and design of ENIAC, EDVAC, BINAC, and UNIVAC. Great reading.
  • I couldn't help but wonder if these 9" x 2" vacuum tubes were compensating for feelings of inadequacy...

  • What so "I've warned you that I'm a racist is now a defence for being racist!

    Bah! There's more of an issue with revisionism than just cultural centrism (sp?)

    We're US-centric does not defend The US invented everything when clearly it hasn't.

    However continually stating things like this in these ways keeps the myths rolling out and perpetuates them.

    Like the film U571 (or whatever it was). It's my understanding that it was a British surface ship and not a US submarine that captured the Enigma machine. But now Hollywood has declared that a US victory.

    Your comment didn't even state an opinion, it just had a link.

    For shame. You can't even defend the (almost racist) revisionism in your own words.

  • You get the hacks at to stop writing about Parliament, the BBC, British Telecom, AOL Europe, et. al. and we'll forget the whole Tea Tax thing, ok?

  • Please expand your horizons a bit more, and learn the difference between truth, and marketing.

    Only if you promise to expand your horizons and get a sense of humor. Or, did you really think we are still upset about the tea tax for the colonies?

  • back in college a prof of mine told us about the first computer he ever worked on in the navy... a univac serial number 000002... after the navy retired it it went to the smithsonian institute.

    interesting side note, it still used liquid mercury for memory allocation, it had to be placed on an insulated floor and you had to step lightly while in the same room as it
  • Unisys 2200s aren't that much better (and I have to program on one of them). And yes, they still have the swilly 1's complement math...
  • We still have to count the citizens. That's what Census 2000 was for...

  • Oh, and Census counts non-citizens living in the US too. (Just to clarify.)

  • First off, thank you for posting this - access to such information is a rarity, to say the least. I enjoy reading such old texts, and this is one that is going to keep me coming back, for certain. I oftentimes find humor in such texts - such as:

    Notice how in the beginning, it notes that basically the manual isn't an "encyclopedic reference"?

    Then you turn to page 13 "Introduction to Computer Operations" - and are given a lesson over the next 40 odd pages on what basically amounts to how to build a damn computer, starting with basic digital circuits and going from there! In fact, the rest of the manual reads the exact same way!

    It would be like opening the glovebox in your new car, pulling out the manual, it reading simply, then the rest of the 100 odd pages being a Chilton's or Hayne's!!! Hahahahah!

    Worldcom [] - Generation Duh!
  • /. is a US-Centric site.
    The Reg. is a UK-Centric site.

    If either of them makes revisionist statements it is wrong.

    In my experience the worst revisionists are not individuals, but US marketing and governmental departments, who want everything to be A) Home-grown, and B) the biggest/bestest/fastest.

    If you want to argue that the US has exploited lots of inventions more effectively than the rest of the world, you'll get no argument from me, but please understand that a lot of these 'US' innovations actually came from other countries/cultures. (Ok, I might also debate the meaning of 'exploited' a bit, since not every exploit is for the benefit of humanity).

    Please expand your horizons a bit more, and learn the difference between truth, and marketing.

  • I about a month I will be making a big PR move: I will be having my birthday! Everybody is invited to send me presents. It's great, I don't even have to DO anything! 8)

    I hope it's not overshadowed by the United States "Fourth-Of-July" PR event though...
  • So that explains the power shortage in California.

    In related news, in an attempt to build the worlds fastest supercomputer, Saddam hussein's SysAdmins today built a "Beowulf cluster" of mass-produced UNIVAC's, "Superior Computers" who's specifications were just released to Iraq.

    The mid-east is now a huge, glowing pool of glass.
  • By acknowledging the Birthday of UNIVAC 1, we acknowledge the effort and acheivement of those who put their skill and persistence into it. We give a nod to our computing origins and those who brought it about in one fell swoop.

  • Blinking lights are good! As a matter of fact, the server room where i work has a glass wall where our sales staff can look at the machines, and one of IT's internal things is we make the server room look as nice and technical as we can. That means - show the masses the das blinkinlites!

    Seriously, though - Sexy machines still use a good number of blinking thingies to tell you if everything is okay. Sexy machines also require grey and purple matte :)

    Disclaimer: Yes, this post is off-topic. No, i don't give a smurfs tail. :)
  • This is another case of the victors rewriting history. I don't want to start a flame war here but the first business computer was actually British, owned by the Lyons Tea Company. Leo (as it was called) began life in the late 40's and ran for many many years. Just like most of the other articles I have been reading recently, the US has a habit of being very perocial.

    If a law is passed in the US is does not make a blind bit of difference to the rest of the world. We do not care what censorship laws are passed and things like DeCSS are NOT illegal over here. Please remember that /. is popular in more countries than the US and a broader point of view should be taken.
  • This is another case of the victors rewriting history. I don't want to start a flame war here but the first business computer was actually British, owned by the Lyons Tea Company. Leo (as it was called) began life in the late 40's and ran for many many years. Just like most of the other articles I have been reading recently, the US has a habit of being very perocial.

    If a law is passed in the US is does not make a blind bit of difference to the rest of the world. We do not care what censorship laws are passed and things like DeCSS are NOT illegal over here. Please remember that /. is popular in more countries than the US and a broader point of view should be taken.
  • OK, and you base your arguments on what? At least I can back up my statements with fact, try and then make your statement.

    I will concede that my second paragraph was unecessary, however having just completed an install of Oracle 8i with a choice of either English or English(UK) as my languages I am a bit peeved!
  • Good point, and I must agree with the concerns that are expressed. However this case has already been contested in Scotland (which has a separate legal system to England) and was thrown out. I suspect that the courts did not fully understand the implications of their actions but at least /.ers would have been pleased with the outcome. As has been listed in an earlier article it appears that the whole DVD thing is being contested in Europe as a whole. The outcome from this will have many implications for the future.
  • Leo wasn't "the world's first electronic general purpose data processing computer" though, was it? Find something better to troll about, and don't append your offtopic rants to the end of your posts.
  • by Our Man In Redmond ( 63094 ) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @05:14AM (#151752)
    They forgot to apologize for the biggest time wasting unintended consequence of all -- Slashdot.
  • I miss those flashy lights... I've been thinking of installing a bunch of them on my box at home, as well as a little device that will make "bing!" and "wrwrwrwr" noises.

    Dood... you've gotta see my apartment. All flashy lights and grr's and noisy hard drives and and...and... I measure my self-worth based on the number of flashy lights and noise in my living room.

    This makes no sense.


  • One thing which I did not know (and that I learned recently) is that, at the very beginning of computing, NSA actually ordered every single computer made by the different manufacturers... and very often suggested speed improvement...

    I know they did this for ENIAC, for instance. And, of course, Cray Research was always very cozy with "No Such Agency".

    Insert requested paranoid conspiracy theory here... =)

    Source: Body of Secrets [] by James Bamford.
  • According to the book ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World's First Computer, the election thing was a bit of a publicity stunt. They had a deal with NBC news to predict the election outcome. UNIVAC did say the Eisenhower would win in a landslide, but all polls said that it would be a close race. So NBC wouldn't announce the computer's prediction, and made the programmers go back and fudge the numbers to make the results more in line with the polls. When Ike did win in a landslide, NBC admitted to the viewers what they did, and that the computer had been right.
  • You know, invention is really a continuum. Babbage's Difference Engine could really be considered the first computer. When Eckert and Mauchly made ENIAC, there were plenty of mechanical computing machines in academic and commercial use. There were even some electrical/mechanical computing machines. Eckert and Mauchly's big innovation was creating a completely electrical computing machine, which greatly increased speed. Stored program computing was another innovation. Where on the continuum do you declare "this is the first computer." When it became electrical? When it became programmable? When programs could be stored? To argue that the Manchester Mark I got left out because it was made in Manchester probably not accurate. It gets ignored because there was a lot of new developments in this field at the time, and having a stored program feature isn't distinctive enough for a place in history. In truth, not many people know the names Eckert and Mauchly, though maybe people have heard of ENIAC or UNIVAC.
  • While Eckert-Mauchly did sell quite a few of the UNIVAC's, they sold many of them early on with contracts that fixed the price. Many sold for as little as $200,000, while the costs of development were into the millions. When Eckert and Mauchly sold out to Remington Rand, they were paid $100,000 for their remaining share of the company. Much of this went to cover their outstanding debts. I guess they didn't technically go out of business, but they never made much money, and they were facing bankruptcy when they did finally sell. This according the the book ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tradgedies of the World's First Computer by Scott McCartney.
  • And it never actually worked. And it wasn't electric, it was electrical/mechanical.
  • Eckert and Mauchly not only created the first commercial computer, they created the technology industry business plan.

    They built the ENIAC (the first electronic computer, whith the possible exception of Turing's Colossus) on a contract with the Defense Department at the University of Pennsylvania. They then took the patents from that project and tried to parlay them into a successful company. They attracted some initial investors, but they tried to keep as much control of the company as they could. They got bogged down with side projects and delivered the UNIVAC late. Meanwhile, larger companies with more capital for R&D, and more business and marketing know-how, put Eckert-Mauchly Computer company out of business.

    Not much has changed in the technology industry in the last 50 years.
  • We're so reliant on machines today, that it's fun to try to "remeber" what it was like to have to call the airport for plane tickets, or buy a map for directions, or actually get up, walk over and change the TV channel, or oh GOD.... DO ARITHMATIC!!! Before ENIAC and UNIVAC and such, ppl actually had to count our citizens!! WOW! (maybe i'm just showing my youth here)
  • You already corrected yourself, but I may as well cover this ABC thing, since it came up.

    I've been a Minnesotan since I was about 7. I know many people from Iowa, and many of my friends have gone to Iowa State. 98% of all the people who think that ABC was the first just happen to be present or former IA State students. As a sampling: neither my friend Tom's parents (Iowa U grads), nor Jason, the h4x0r in my dept. from Quad Cities (no college), or his boss Jim (went to UIUC) believe ABC is the first, yet all are from Iowa, while all three classmates of mine that I know that went to IA State think it was. I can fish out more examples if you like, but I think that should illustrate the point.


  • Exactly how does posting as an AC contribute any credibility to your flame, or was that the poinnt?

    This boss character Jim hacked BSD and wrote drivers for the Winchester before you were even born, kiddo. He, like many Iowans, came to Minnesota because the only job opportunities there are in farming and meat packing. In 18 years, not one of the dozens of Iowans I have known has ever claimed ABC to be the first, yet it is the first thing out of the mouth of anyone who has ever gone to Iowa State.

    Search Google for "World's First Computer" yourself: puter&hl=en&lr=&safe=off []
    (link shall be eaten by SpaceDot, the URL mangling Slashcode daemon)

    Now go claim victory to all your friends, for I have been trolled, I have lost, and all that.


  • See Comment 107 [] for further proof.


  • The first stored program digital computer was the Manchester Mark I. Before this computers had their programs controlled through switches or other weird mechanisms. Of course becuase the inventors were not American this is often ignored. Just like TV, which was really invented by a Scot
  • Here [] is a nice read about the one's complement logic used in Univac.

    Programmers used to add zero (an obvious no-op on today's computers) to weed the negative zeroes out before using bitwise operations. Smart.

    Something's just bugging me in that -0 + +0 = +0, though...

  • They apologise for "giving SPAM a bad name,", which is hardly Unisys' fault, but forget about the only reason anyone knows Unisys' name these days - the .GIF patent [].

    I smell PR Bunnies at work - although time was when WiReD would have called them on something like that.

  • UNIVAC supported storage on metal tape!

    Wowser! I'll bet those tapes, unlike NPR archive tapes, still contain data. Unysis must have some patent on metal tapes or sumthin.

  • The people are actually mentioned, in a slapdash way - Ekert and Mauchly are the people primarily credited for it. They worked on Eniac as well.

    Though since we are mentioning people, we all must bow before John Von Neumann who just so happened to suggest silly things like serial computation (ie, computing htings in order (believe it or not this was NOT how the early designs worked, parallel computing predates serial computing) and using binary numbers in cmputers.

    Sorry I didn't include them when I submitted the story. Consider me chastised.

  • One of the big joys of writing an emulator will be emulating +0 and -0 and their inequivalency. The joys of integers before 2's complement...
  • Oh, thanks a LOT! The thought of emulating this beast brought back 20-year-old memories of the Univac 1100, with its Fieldata character set, quarter-word mode, the 1701 keypunch (and its "chad collector tray"), and the ever popular


    system call.

    You know that sinking feeling you get when you realize you've just done an "rm -rf" on the wrong directory? That's very similar to the feeling you get just after hearing the splat of your card deck dropping into a puddle.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @08:40AM (#151771) Homepage
    Case Institute of Technology had a UNIVAC I running when I went to visit them before enrolling. But by the time I got into college, they'd upgraded to a Univac 1107. Al Misek, who had maintained the UNIVAC I, told me that in the years the machine had been at CASE, they'd never had a tube failure during operation. Every morning, the tubes were run on "high margin", with elevated voltages, which would burn out all tubes near failure. Those were then replaced, allowing a day of uninterrupted operation. The self-checking dual CPUs would catch any errors.

    This was a decimal machine. Early computing used decimal machines for business, and binary machines for scientific work. There's still a residue of this in the decimal instructions of the x86 and of IBM mainframes.

    As a kid, I came across a junked UNIVAC I, including console, at Alert Surplus Sales (920 W St. NW), in Washington, D.C. Got to poke around the insides a bit. The tape drive's reel motors were driven by standard McIntosh audio amplifiers. The console switches were all telephone lever switches. There's no display on the console other than lights.

    Working at the Census Bureau in the late 1960s, I met many people who'd used the UNIVAC I machines. They also still had lots of punched-card tabulating gear, but prior to the UNIVAC I, they'd had acres of IBM tabulators. All the IBM gear was on rental; IBM didn't sell their machines. So, once the UNIVAC I was up and running, one day the IBM sales rep was called in and told that Census was cancelling most of the tab gear. It was the biggest return in IBM history, and the event that made T.J. Watson get IBM into computers.

    Census still had two UNIVAC 1105 machines running; the biggest vacuum-tube machines ever sold commercially. They still had lots of UNIVAC I tape. The original UNISERVO I tape was 8 track (6 data, 1 parity, one clock), 50 BPI and steel. Not steel on plastic, the tape was a ribbon of steel. Plastic tape, and an upgrade to 200 BPI, came with the UNIVAC 1105 and the UNISERVO II. Bad spots had to be found manually, and a tape with a bad spot could be rewritten if you manually punched a hole in the tape on either side of the bad spot. I still have a reel of this stuff from my years at Case.

    The UNIVAC I was operated as a tape-in, tape-out machine. Other standalone systems, each the size of a mainframe computer, did card-to-tape, tape-to-card, and tape-to-printer operations. The keyboard on the console had no display other than the console lights. Typically, UNIVAC I machines spent most of the day sorting, spinning tapes back and forth merging subsorts together. This was inefficient by modern standards, but far, far better than sorting hundreds of millions of punched cards. The sorting job alone justified the machines for Census.

    The UNIVAC I was basically the first commercial computer good enough to routinely use for business data processing.

  • More importantly, where are the NSA guidelines for making it secure?
  • We do not care what censorship laws are passed and things like DeCSS are NOT illegal over here.

    Not if you get sued in the US and the Hague Convention [] forces your UK courts to enforce the US DMCA.

  • I know that Henry Ford didn't invent the car, like people (Americans, at least) like to think. Who did invent the light bulb and the airplane, though, if it wasn't Edison and the Wright brothers?
  • Unisis forgot the whole "Charging everyone for completely obvious patents" consequence thingie©
  • If you find early computers fascinating, visit Melbourne Australia sometime. The only surviving first generation computer is displayed at the Melbourne Museum.

    CSIRAC was built in 1949, and unlike other similar machines, was not upgraded or broken up. []

  • for more history, try univac memories

    an interesting site on the last days of big iron before the ascendency of minicomputers.
  • I wish I could have two birthdays in the same year. UNIVAC celebrated its golden anniversary last March, too. []

    From the Unisys History Newsletter [] : "The first UNIVAC passed its formal acceptance test on March 29-30, 1951 and was turned over to the Census Bureau, which operated it in the factory for nearly a year. A formal dedication ceremony was held on June 14, but coverage in the general press was minimal."

  • I should have said that in my original post. Sorry for replying to myself.
  • by clary ( 141424 ) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @05:10AM (#151780)
    For another view of the early days of the computer, see this link: John Vincent Atanasoff and the Birth of the Digital Computer [].

    Disclaimer: Iowa State University is one of my alma maters, so I am naturally biased.

  • the 50th anniversary of ASCII pr0n.
  • That's great now I'd like to see a UNIVAC on a chip like they did with ENIAC []


  • by ajna ( 151852 )
    UNIversal Automatic Computer

    How do you get UNIVAC from that? Hmm... is the V implied, or is it really UNIVersal Automatic Computer? Or UNIversal Vacuum-tubed Automatic Computer, or...

  • More accurately, "we're US-centric" does not justify propogating a known lie.
  • Well, the ABC *was* digital but it was very much a special purpose machine that performed a single task, which qualifies it as a calculator rather than a computer. In terms of functionality, it offered little more than Babbage's machines.

    You're right, it does deserve a mention, though.
  • by UncleFluffy ( 164860 ) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @05:38AM (#151787)
    Well, to be accurate:

    "The Manchester Machine (aka Manchester Mk 1)" (1949) was the *second* stored program computer, and was a general purpose machine.

    "The Baby" (1947) (also from Manchester) was the *first* stored program computer, and was a general purpose machine.

    "Colossus" (1943) was built at Bletchley Park, and was neither a stored program computer nor a general purpose machine.

    "ENIAC" (1945) was built at the University of Pennsylvania and was (almost) a general purpose machine, but not a stored program computer.

    "Ferranti Mark 1" (February 1951) was the world's *first* commercial computer.

    "UNIVAC" (March 1951) was the world's *second* commercial computer.

    (I'm not familiar enough with Zuse's contributions to place them accurately, but will acknowledge that they exist)

  • Back then you could tell a good computer by the number of flashy lights

    I miss those flashy lights... I've been thinking of installing a bunch of them on my box at home, as well as a little device that will make "bing!" and "wrwrwrwr" noises.
    Ah, nostalgia.

  • Yeah well,

    The really difficult part is to transfer the GIMP source code to punch cards, which is very environmentally unfriendly.

    Next, you'll have to write a C compiler for OS1100 (or whatever it's called nowadays). Hey maybe you could port GCC and upload it to source forge ?

    Next is some sort of clustering software, I suggest that you steal the microfiches of the VMS operating system from somebodies desk. They have really good clustering and you might be able to adapt some tricks.

    Of course, most of it is written in MACRO32 or BLISS, which leads to another small effort:

    Porting BLISS to the UNIVAC (Don't forget to upload to Source Forge, provided they're still in business then).

    And presto! You're all set.

    No need to thank me...

  • Actually, a lot of mainframes in the 60s and 70s were water cooled. It was a big deal when Amdahl came out with an IBM/360 clone that was air cooled.
  • by sawb ( 187496 ) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @05:25AM (#151793)
    It was created by Dr. J. Presper Eckert and Dr. John W. Mauchly who worked for Remington Rand Inc. It was started in 1946 and was completely on released on this day, 50 years ago.
    Here is a link to more information: UNIVAC History []
  • Does anyone else find this quote a bit surprising?

    "My son, for example, plays this game called 'I'm Going In,'" Esnouf said. "He spends all Sunday morning shooting people on the computer."

    For a company spokesperson, that's a rather unPC thing to say when talking about the benefits that computers have given us.

  • The Manchester Machine, built and operated during the Second World War at Manchester University, England, was the very first stored program computer to work. Can't say that it was general purpose, though.


  • Lets not forget the ABC [], the first digital computer, built at Iowa State University by researchers from 1937-1942. I'm pretty sure it wasn't general purpose, but hey, it deserves mention at least! Go cyclones! ;)
  • At you can see a history of the Ferranti Mark 1. I quote, "The Ferranti Mark 1 was the world's first commercially available general-purpose computer. The first machine off the production line was delivered to the University in February 1951."
  • Hey, I actually programmed this machine, or was it the Model 2 (I really don't remember) back in the early sixties while I was in the Army stationed at First Army Hq on Governor's Island in NYC. The computer had a drum for the "stored" program and a plugboard for the wired part. The drum was mounted for display behind a large glass window. I don't remember how much memory the computer had for variables, but I don't think there was much. The computer was all-tube, and I don't remember how often it broke down. It definitely did, of course. The machine had some interesting ideas, I thought. For example, tape sorts were done by disconnecting the tape drive from the main processor and controlling the sort through a plugboard designed for the job. The main processor was too slow and too small to handle sorting. We optimized our programs by arranging jump instructions to consider drum rotational latency so that as little amount of time as possible would be lost while waiting for the destination instruction to be reached. All code was in absolute, no offsets, no assembler, so optimizing was definitely a challange, but a requirement. One program that I wrote for the machine was to predict the time, space, and intensity distribution aspects of fallout from a hypothetical A-bomb explosion given the winds at the time of the event. I also wrote code to help generate coompany "morning reports," a much more mundane activity. It was my first programming job.
  • It was designated by a model number though I don't recall whether it was one or two, so I'm not sure what you mean by "No, ..." or are you just in the habit of starting a rejoinder with a "No?"
  • The complete Unisys press release and the full text of their apology can be found here [].

    I can't tell if their apology is tongue-in-cheek, or if they really mean it. If they really mean it, then some of the pioneers of the Internet should be writing their apologies. (I'll get on the phone and see if Vinton Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, and Marc Andreesen are available, among others.)

    Of course, the whole thing could just be a plug for their current computing technology, in which case I've been cleverly drawn into their trap.

  • The computer room in the engineering building at the University of Utah was put in by Univac for the 1108. This room was later the site of one of the original five DARPAnet sites (later the ARPANET and now the Internet).

    When I got there as a student, the UNIVAC was long gone, replaced by PDP11-series, VAX and HP9000 minicomputers.

    One day late in my schooling (I was there over ten years) I was placing one of the first Linux machines in the computer room when I found a 1108 run card in the space under the floor. Got me to thinking about the early computers and the impact they had on society.

  • And of course the American moderators wouldnt mod up yet another British first (along with telephone, web, steam engine, mass insudsty etc. etc.)
  • I remember the Baby's 50th anniversary, and goign to school in Manchester, barely 5 miles from the spot it was created, we had a little competition in the school (part of a larger competition - [])

    The SSEM - "baby" - []
    First run on June 21st 1948 - 3 years before univac. Less then a year later it was available to the university for general comutation, and had a magnetic "drum".

    More information at that url anyway, and at []
  • by micromoog ( 206608 ) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @07:03AM (#151805)
    If you're ever in Washington D.C., stop by the Smithsonian Museum of American History and check out the basement. They have the UNIVAC I, as well as portions of the ENIAC, and probably most of the other pieces of computing history you've ever used or heard of.

    It's really incredible. I spent several hours in awe, walking through there.

    They've even got the earliest of early: relatives to Babbage's difference engine, etc. I highly recommend it for anyone who has any geek in them at all.

    And, like most of Washington, it's free.

  • While a computer today weighs 1-1/2 tons and has 18,000 vaccum tubes, in the future, computers might have only 1000 vaccum tubes and weigh only 1/2 ton.
    --Popular Mechanics, March 1949
    "Linux is a cancer" -- Steve Ballmer, CEO Microsoft.
  • Hi, I stumbled upon an old Univac 1. I'd like to use it as part of a heterogeneous rendering farm for GIMP. I'm too lazy to use Google, so does anyone have any links?
  • oh, the other one... nevermind
  • Why do we care about the first commercial computer so muuch? Why not look at hte history (which I find much more interesting), including the work of Alan Turing [] and all the great men and women who were involved in the Bletchley Park Enigma Codebreaking effort. It's a fascinating piece of history for all; computer enthusiasts, military history fans, and those fascinated with the world of spies and spying. And for those who don't feel like reading what they think yould be dry, historical records, there are laways novelised accounts out there too [I'll dispense with ranting about how historical record chould not be novelized because it draws an audience for a version of history, while plainly offered as fiction, some group of readers will always take as historical fact, distortinh historical truth, etc, etc...]. Having said that, there are a few novelized acconts of this era that are quite cood. Perticularly Enigma [], a novel by Robert harris. It was quite entertaining but I recommend reading some of the historical record of the time first, so as not to get yourself into the rut of using it as a reference for historical fact of the time [which, again, I'll rant about some other time...]


  • by hillct ( 230132 ) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @05:10AM (#151810) Homepage Journal
    It really ammounts to a nice PR move by Unisys. Vary slick. Remind the world that 50 years ago the company was an inovator, well What have you done for me lately?

    I was a little disappointed with their spokesman Mr. Esnouf:"My son, for example, plays this game called 'I'm Going In,'" Esnouf said. "He spends all Sunday morning shooting people on the computer. We've invented this whole virtual reality. It's great, isn't it?" Is that really the best light he could put computer gaming in? I'm all for computer games and I'd say 'spending sunday morning shooting people' is a bit harsh. But all in all, Unisys pulled off a vary nice PR move without having to produce announce, or unveil a new product. Good deal for them...


  • by stonewolf ( 234392 ) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @05:49AM (#151811) Homepage
    One of my Uncles wrote code some of the code for the UNIVAC I that was used to predict the out come of the 1952 presidential election. He would tell the story every time he was around his techie kids and relations. Seems most of the folks on the project were hard core Democrats and they all believed deep down inside that the other guy (Stevenson?) was going to win.

    When they got the first numbers and ran the analysis the UNIVAC said that Eisenhower was going to win by a landslide. Well, the programmers didn't believe it so they started looking for the bugs in their code. They looked really hard and fixed a couple of bugs and they got new data and they reran the analysis and it said Eisenhower by a landslide. So they went looking for more bugs...

    Finally they had to report their results and they did with great embarrassment because nobody, including the press, believed the Eisenhower could possibly win.

    Eisenhower won in a landslide.

    My Uncle would always end the story with a moral about having to trust the results of experiments even when they disagreed with your personal belief. He's a great guy, I wish I knew him better.


  • I don't necessarily agree with the demand of the post but here is a link which may shed some light. r/folklore/v5n1.html And thankyou J. Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly for making our lives better...I think ;)
  • In reply to the suggestion that:
    "we all must bow before John Von Neumann who just so happened to suggest silly things like serial computation (ie, computing htings in order (believe it or not this was NOT how the early designs worked, parallel computing predates serial computing)..."
    it is interesting to note that Eckert and Mauchly actually deserve credit (it has been argued) for much of the things von Neumann gets credit for, in particular, that the "von Neumann architecture" should actually be called the "Eckert and Mauchly" architecture. See Hennessy and Patterson ("Computer Archtiecture: A Wuantitative Approach"), 2nd Edition, Section 1.10, p. 53-54.

    I'm not saying this to decrease anyone's respect for von Neumann -- he was clearly a pivotal figure -- but rather to show how important Eckert and Mauchly (and ENIAC and UNIVAC) were.

    Ron Obvious

  • Get down off your high horse. Observing the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the UNIVAC I machine in no way excludes interest in Turing, or for that matter in the various Polish Mathematicians/Logicians which made the work in Betchley possible, or their predecessors, or any other of the many fascinating figures in the history of what we today call a "computer". Quite the opposite. If you look at this whole discussion, you'll see it's inspired a lot of digging for the details, unearthed the names of a lot of people who made important contributions (yes, Turing, of course, but also Eckert and Mauchly and von Neumann and Konrad Zuse and quite a few others), and has in no way concentrated on "commercial" computers.

    The point is not that "commercial" computers are important, but rather that the UNIVAC I was important, that it's charming to know that the anniversary was yesterday (meanwhile), and to use that for an excuse to go looking into the whole context. Particularly when you consider that Ecker and Mauchly were the actual fathers of the so-called "von Neumann architecture", which everyone who has any serious interest in Computers must have heard of by now (see my last post and/or Hennessy and Patterson, 2nd Edition).

    Finally, I've read Robert Harris's "Enigma" and it has to be about the least informative, most run-of-the-mill depiction of Betchley Park yet to be put to print. See the cryptography FAQ for several good non-fiction references if you want the history, of if you insist on non-fiction, read Stevenson's Cryptonomicon, which I suspect is written is a style a lot closer to a Slashdotter's taste than Harris's tired old war novel style.

    Ron Obvious

  • In either case, above all... it would be slow
  • Truly, Brahmagupta is the father of modern computing. I don't see him mentioned at all.
  • Anyone made a keg fridge out the case yet?

  • The incandescent light bulb (with a filament of charred linen) was simultaneously invented by Edison's lab and by some British high-school teacher. They sued each other over patents, and each one won -- in his own country. However, maybe the real credit ought to go to whoever invented a vacuum pump good enough to keep the filament from burning up in residual oxygen. A frenchman (I think) had the basic idea 10 years earlier, but his vacuum wasn't good enough and the bulb died in minutes. The bulbs we use now have a tungsten filament (for a 10x improvement in life-expectancy), sometimes nitrogen gas fill instead of a vacuum, or even a bit of bromine and iodine to combine with evaporating tungsten atoms and re-deposit them on the filament ("halogen" bulbs); I remember that last invention was made by aircraft engineers trying to shrink the size of the wingtip running lights, but I have no idea who made the others.

    There was also the electric arc lamp, which was around decades earlier than the incandescent bulb. But in the 19th century it resembled an arc-welder, and someone had to stay there and keep adjusting it as the electrodes burned down. Many decades later, it was tamed by being built into a bulb with automatic control circuits -- neon, mercury arc, and flourescent lights.

    I never heard of that airplane in New Zealand. Are there more details on the web? It's possible that simple remoteness cheated the Kiwis out of proper recognition. But it's quite clear why the Wright's got the recognition out of all the Europeans and Americans who were riding wobbly powered kites up in the air at that time: they managed to crash the plane gently enough to be able to repair it and go up again the next day, and to keep it in one piece while they taught themselves how to _land_. Lilienthal (at least) was flying several times before the Wrights, but he always came down hard. He apparently assumed that when he got the airframe right, he could just automatically fly it, while the Wrights did everything possible to prepare themselves and then took baby steps. Even with all that preparation, the first flight ended in a tailspin -- but at 12 feet and maybe 20mph it didn't break the airplane much.
  • Here's some back-up:
    A book about the Leo: The Incredible Story of the World's First Business Computer []
    and a bunch of stuff from the National Archive for the History of Computing here []
    I thought the original article was fishy :)

    "What are we going to do tonight, Bill?"
  • by Penfield Zoat ( 325344 ) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @05:07AM (#151838)
    We in the tech business sometimes have a habit of elevating technology to a sort of self-causing status. For example, we are now celebrating the birthday of UNIVAC, a non-living being which has done nothing of its own accord. I have to ask: where are the humans?

    Neither the wired article nor Slashdot so much as mention those who made this, and all subsequent computers a reality. Sure Linus Torveldes buys a taco and it's written up in every Linux rag, but try to give some credit to the people who gave him his opprertunity, and you come up empty! (Never mind that these guys were doing original, really original work, and Linus was just copying).

    I demand that Slashdot's editors actually bother to find out who created this machine and publish it. It think that as a computer user, you owe them that much of a memory. Not to mention it might put a stop to all this senseless gadget-worship.
  • If you want old-skool computers, go to the Science Museum [] in london. They have a recreation of the first computer in the world (powered by a handle). Good work, Mr. Babbage.
  • LOL I remember when the first European version of Encarta was released, it had to be withdrawn after reviewers objected to the number of inventions erroneously attributed to Americans.
  • The original was only $1 Million... Seeing how there no practical way for one of us to get one, who is writing an emulator for it...

    At only 1000 instructions per second, I'm sure just about any computer could handle it...

    Do you need Coupons []

  • by Al Kossow ( 460144 ) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @10:00AM (#151863)
    In honor of UNIVAC 1's birthday, I've placed a scan of the users manual at n.pdf There is a nice picture of the front panel at the back. re: simulators I seriously doubt any UNIVAC 1 code survives to RUN on a simulator. It appears that there is very little second generation computer software left, much less first generation.

Loose bits sink chips.