UNIVAC 1 - one of the world's first "supercomputers"
Fun Facts About the UNIVAC 1 Supercomputer
- Prior to the installation of the UNIVAC, The Census Bureau continued to use updated versions of Herman Hollerith’s 1890 electric counting machine through the 1940 census.
Hollerith's Electronic Counting Machine
- During World War II, the War Department (precursor to the Department of Defense) began to explore the use of electronic digital computers to process ballistic information.
- In 1943, the National Defense Research Council (NDRC) approved the design and construction of the Electronic Numeric Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) to be used by the War Department’s Ballistic Research Laboratory. The computer was built over the course of three years by a team of engineers led by John W. Mauchly and his former student J. Presper Eckert.
- During ENIAC project, Mauchly met with several Census Bureau officials to discuss non-military applications for electronic computing devices.
- The research for the project proceeded badly, and it was not until 1948 that the actual design and contract was finalized. The Census Bureau’s ceiling for the project was $400,000. J Presper Eckert and John Mauchly were prepared to absorb any overrun in costs in hopes of recouping from future service contracts, but the economics of the situation brought the inventors to the edge of bankruptcy.In 1946, with ENIAC completed, Mauchly and Eckert were able to secure a study contract from the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) to begin work on a computer designed for use by the Census Bureau. This study, originally scheduled for six months, took about a year to complete.
- In 1950, Eckert and Mauchly were bailed out of financial trouble by Remington Rand Inc. (manufacturers of electric razors), and the “Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation” became the “Univac Division of Remington Rand.” Remington Rand’s lawyers unsuccessfully tried to re-negotiate the government contract for additional money. Under threat of legal action, however, Remington Rand had no choice but to complete the UNIVAC at the original price.
- Mauchly and Eckert began building UNIVAC I in 1948 and delivered the completed machine to the Census Bureau in March 1951.UNIVAC was, effectively, an updated version of ENIAC. Data could be input using magnetic computer tape (and, by the early 1950’s, punch cards). It was tabulated using vacuum tubes and state-of-the-art circuits then either printed out or stored on more magnetic tape.
- The machine was 25 feet by 50 feet in length, contained 5,600 tubes, 18,000 crystal diodes, and 300 relays. It utilized serial circuitry, 2.25 MHz bit rate, and had an internal storage capacity 1,000 words or 12,000 characters.
- Power consumption was about 120 kva. Its reported processing speed was 0.525 milliseconds for arithmetic functions, 2.15 milliseconds for multiplication and 3.9 Milliseconds for division.
J.Prosper Eckert and John Mauchly
- The computer was used to tabulate part of the 1950 population census and the entire 1954 economic census.
- Throughout the 1950’s, UNIVAC also played a key role in several monthly economic surveys. The computer excelled at working with the repetitive but intricate mathematics involved in weighting and sampling for these surveys.
- The Bureau purchased a second UNIVAC I machine in the mid-1950’s, and two UNIVAC 1105 computers for the 1960 census.
- The UNIVAC was also the first computer to come equipped with a magnetic tape unit and was the first computer to use buffer memory.
- Remington Rand became the first American manufacturers of a commercial computer system. Their first non-government contract was for General Electric’s Appliance Park facility in Louisville, Kentucky, who used the UNIVAC computer for a payroll application.
- John Presper Eckert and John Mauchly’s UNIVAC was a direct competitor with IBM’s computing equipment for the business market. The speed with which UNIVAC’s magnetic tape could input data was faster than IBM’s punch card technology, but it was not until the presidential election of 1952 that the public accepted the UNIVAC’s abilities.
- In a publicity stunt, the UNIVAC computer was used to predict the results of the Eisenhower-Stevenson presidential race. The computer had correctly predicted that Eisenhower would win, but the news media decided to blackout the computer’s prediction and declared that the UNIVAC had been stumped.
- When the truth was revealed, it was considered amazing that a computer could do what political forecasters could not, and the UNIVAC quickly became a household name.
- From 1951 to 1958 a total of 46 UNIVAC I computers were delivered, all of which have since been phased out.
- The original UNIVAC now sits in the Smithsonian Institution.