On March 31, 1951, exactly 70 years ago, the engineers J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly , delivered to the United States Census Bureau the first commercial computer in history that received the name of UNIVAC I (Universal Automatic Computer I) in order to monitor the so-called baby boom, that is, the substantial demographic increase that occurred in the United States in the early 1950s. Commissioned on June 14 of the same year, 46 units were sold to some companies and the US government: in addition to the American Census Bureau, UNIVAC I was acquired by General Electric, a private company that employed it in its Louisville appliance factory to manage the company’s payroll and for the warehouse inventory control system.
What is so extraordinary about this invention?
You might think that the sale price, between 1.25 and 1.5 million dollars, or also its size since it was as big as a huge closet with a total weight of 13 tons. The real revolution lies in the fact that for the first time in history a computer was used for data processing, and not only for mathematical equations and complicated calculations, the main function until that moment. In addition, for the first time the term “automatic” was used.: all the data, numbers and letters, were stored and read by a metallic tape drive, without entering the programs manually. An innovative and visionary device that the New York Times called “the 2.42 m tall mathematical genius”, capable of registering and classifying an average citizen based on gender, marital status, education, residence and other information in one-sixth of a second.
What has changed in 70 years in business data management?
It could be said that for the first time in history a computer has advanced the evolution that would be called Data Integration, that is, a complicated process of assimilation, mapping, movement and transformation of data, necessary to obtain its elaboration and operation. Today digitization has led to an exponential growth of data that companies have to manage efficiently and quickly. From giant computers, the software has become capable of intuitively, dynamically and securely managing data. These include Primeur solutions , a European multinational specialized in data integration, which for more than 30 years has been offering its products to national and international companies. “In 70 years, technology has progressed enormously. UNIVAC I was undoubtedly the forerunner of this movement that today is essential to manage the operation of large companies in the public and private sector – says Paloma Hernández, CEO of Primeur Spain and Latin America – better data management translates into a greater increase in productivity, time to market and the general service of a company, as well as allowing more precise and faster decisions to be made at the business management level ”.
Despite the difficulties that both scientists encountered during the construction of UNIVAC I, this work brought them great satisfaction and awards. On November 4, 1952, for the first time in history, a computer predicted victory in the presidential election of Dwight D. Eisenhower with a margin of error of 1%. Since then the Americans became aware of the technological importance of this machine, so much so that UNIVAC became the most common word to indicate computers. UNIVAC I was not the only invention of the scientists Presper Eckert and John Mauchly: a few years before, exactly in 1946 they planned ENIAC, Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator, the first general-purpose electronic computer in history. The project was commissioned by US Army Ordinance Department that needed a device capable of solving the computation problems of the ballistic curves of artillery shells. Unlike UNIVAC I, this computer occupied an area of 180 square meters and weighed 30 tons. In addition to the size, ENIAC consumed up to 150 kilowatts of power: precisely because of this, the first time it was put into operation, it caused a general blackout in the western district of the city of Philadelphia. It is no coincidence that the English word “brainiac”, that is, brainiac, comes from the first ENIAC consumed up to 150 kilowatts of power: precisely because of this, the first time it was put into operation, it caused a general blackout in the western district of the city of Philadelphia. It is no coincidence that the English word “brainiac”, that is, brainiac, comes from the first ENIAC consumed up to 150 kilowatts of power: precisely because of this, the first time it was put into operation, it caused a general blackout in the western district of the city of Philadelphia. It is no coincidence that the English word “brainiac”, that is, brainiac, comes from the first ENIAC electronic computer.
From costing $ 1 million and weighing 13 tons, to entering our homes and offices around the world, the computer has revolutionized the way we live and work. In the last year, the pandemic has favored the computer market, registering the best growth in the last decade at a global level: according to an investigation carried out by the Financial Times, a study by the Gartner society affirms that in the last quarter of 2020 the units of computers shipped worldwide were 79.4 million, with an increase of 10.7% compared to the previous year, while on an annual basis there was a growth of 4.8% compared to 2019, with 275 million units over-sold, the highest figure recorded since 2010. The research company IDC, on the other hand,Canalys has affirmed that in the last year shipments have grown by 11%, reaching 297 million units.
In conclusion, here are 10 curiosities about UNIVAC I, the first commercial computer in history:
J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly nearly went bankrupt because the Census Bureau’s funding was only $ 400,000, while UNIVAC I cost nearly $ 1 million to design and build.
The selling price of the first commercial computer was around $ 1.25 and $ 1.5 million.
It was used for the first time by the United States Census Bureau to monitor the so-called baby boom, that is, the substantial demographic increase that took place in the United States in the 1950s.
General Electric was the first private company to use UNIVAC I to manage payroll and for the inventory control system of the warehouses of the appliance factory.
It was the first computer in history capable of predicting the victory of the presidential elections. On November 4, 1952, he assigned victory to President Dwight D. Eisenhower with a 1% margin of error.
UNIVAC I was the first computer in history used for data processing, capable of storing numbers and letters automatically.
It consisted of 5,200 tubular valves, all installed in the processor.
It weighed 13 tons, consumed 125 kW and ran at 2.25 MHz.
It was capable of performing 445 multiplications per second and could store up to 1000 sequences in mercury memory.
Each memory element could contain two instructions, a number of 11 digits and signs or 12 alphabetic characters.