Remington Rand "Univac" (UNIVersal Automatic Computer) computer was
delivered on March 31, 1951. Its main memory consisted of liquid mercury
delay lines arranged in 1000 words of 12 alphanumeric characters each.
A Univac famously calculated the first presidential race forecast -
Eisenhower vs. Stevenson - and was correct! This 1957 report mentions
how "giant electronic computers no longer rank as laboratory curiosities
or frightening science-fiction robots." The Unisys company is today's
descendant of Remington Rand.
By Frank Leary
Electronic Brain for Industry
Business and industry, hard-pressed
for information to aid management, turn to computers for help - and
The giant electronic computers no longer rank as laboratory
curiosities or frightening science-fiction robots. Imaginative businessmen,
hard-pressed by a shortage of clerical help, have put them quietly to
work in the accounting office, the stockroom, and wherever else work
can be routinized.
First of the giant brains to be built
specifically for business, the Remington Rand "Univac" has been familiar
to most Americans through the role it has played in predicting the outcome
of the last three national elections. On last November's election evening,
with less than 1/2 percent of the votes (300,000) counted, the "Univac"
predicted at 7:15 p.m., EST, that the odds were 100 to 1 in favor of
an Eisenhower landslide and that only 87 electoral votes were likely
to wind up in the column of candidate Stevenson. By midnight, "Univac"
had virtually pinpointed the final results with a forecast that President
Eisenhower's plurality would be 9,269,524, totaling 58 percent of the
popular vote to Stevenson's 42 percent. (The actual plurality, as of
the time of this writing, is very close to 9,312,700).
political forecast of "Univac" was made back in 1952. Then, with 3,380,000
votes reported. "Univac" also quoted odds of 100 to 1, predicting 438
electoral votes for Eisenhower and 93 for Stevenson (final returns:
442 to 89). At that time, only six "Univac" systems had been sold; these
six were all the general-purpose business data-processing systems that
had ever been built. Now about a dozen large office-equipment and electronics
manufacturers are engaged in the building of big computers; half a hundred
more companies are building major systems components. What was a minor
novelty in 1951 has become a several-hundred-million-dollar industry
in the remarkably brief ensuing period of a little over five years'
The "Univac" system shown on the cover of this month's
issue is one of the two such systems installed by the Consolidated Edison
Company of New York to process its customers' accounts. Over a hundred
large-scale computing systems of this type are already working for American
business and industry across the land, in various government agencies,
and in a great many military establishments and equipment, as are described
in the article "Behind the Giant Brains," in this issue.
distinguishing feature of the "Univac," when it was introduced in 1951,
was not its computing speed; its own predecessor, the "Binac," could
compute almost two times as fast, and many other machines released before
or since were faster than the Remington Rand development. "Univac's"
forte was in flexibility; it was one of the first big computers to be
able to handle numbers and alphabetic characters with equal ease; it
was the very first computing system to use high-speed magnetic tape
recording to get information into the computer and get results out.
High-speed tape input and output, of course, permits the rapid handling
and processing of information in volume. Since most problems of business
and industry are characterized by masses of alphabetic or numerical
information on which a relatively small amount of computing or processing
is done, input-output facilities make the difference between a scientific
computer and a data processor which is truly applicable to large-scale
"Univac" is also unusual in being a self-checking
computer. Over a third of the circuitry in the large central computer
cabinet is devoted to checking arid verifying operations. Every arithmetical
process, all transfers of information, and even the instruction set-ups,
control functions, and so forth, are checked. Inconsistencies, discrepancies,
etc., cause the computer to stop and alert the operator to their presence
and location. Since the machine cannot introduce an undetected error,
processed results are thoroughly reliable.
It is difficult to
estimate the savings which have accrued to dozens of computer users,
because these savings are both direct and indirect. Not only do companies
relieve pressure on their overburdened clerical staffs, and eliminate
the many machines which formerly did the work now done by computers;
but they also do work which they had never planned, hoped, or intended
to do before; work which only a high-speed electronic computer can make
possible. And in this realm, of course, there is no basis for comparison.
But in every case, companies which have leased or purchased such computers
made their decisions to do so after their own staffs had made exhaustive
surveys which pointed conclusively to substantial and measurable savings
over other systems. In this field, as in almost any other, the searching
criterion of economy has brought us into the electronic age.
Posted July 17,