Alex Flaxenburg


The UNIVAC was a computing system built by Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation before being bought by the Remington Rand Corporation in the 1950s. The UNIVAC was deigned primarily by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, from the University of Pennsylvania, who also invented and designed the ENIAC. Like with many new technologies, the US Government received the first wave of UNIVAC systems. The US Census Bureau, the US Air Force, and the US Army bought the first available UNIVAC systems. Soon after, the insurance companies in the United States realized the power and capabilities of a proper computing system. To fully explore the history of the UNIVAC, the roots of computing systems must also be discussed.

History of Computing

Before fully functional computer systems, corporations and the US Government relied on tabulating machines. A tabulating machine is a mechanical device that assists in calculations and shortens the time required to process a large amount of data or numbers. Tabulating machines have been historically used in many applications, but the first use of such a device was to analyze the 1890 census information. From 1880 to 1890, the United States experienced a boom in population largely due to increased immigration. The 1880 census took over seven years to calculate and process. At the time, experts believed that the 1890 census would take over thirteen years to compile. With the use of the tabulating machine, officials finished and compiled the census both under budget and ahead of schedule. Fast forward to the invention of the ENIAC. The ENIAC, or Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer, functions on the same basic level as the UNIVAC and was invented by the same principle designers of the UNIVAC. The ENIAC, despite operating in the same similar fashion, is considerably slower when calculating complex numbers and inputs than the UNIVAC. The UNIVAC computer system is essentially a glorified calculator. The original UNIVAC, in most commercial applications, functioned as an accounting system. Using a computer streamlined the payroll system by offloading the calculations from a person to the computer. Even though the UNIVAC by todays standards is slow, it could calculate the payroll for a company much, much faster than a human could. It operates on the same basic principles of any modern day computer. A person enters in information for the computer to process and the computer outputs the processed data in a way that the person can understand. Other than this fact, the UNIVAC has little resemblance of the computers sitting on everyone?s desk. The UNIVAC weighs a staggering 29,000 pounds and takes up more than 35 square meters of space. For comparison, the CPU in a modern computer can easily fit in the palm of a person?s hand. It takes an entire room full of computer equipment to accomplish less than what a cheap calculator from a grocery store can accomplish today.

Modern Computers Vs. UNIVAC

Modern day computing rooms for large corporations look similar to the rooms that the UNIVACs around the country once occupied. The one exception is that modern day server rooms house many times more computer systems than the single mainframe that the UNIVAC represents. The UNIVAC relied on vacuum tubes to operate. A vacuum tube regulates the flow of electricity within a circuit. Most people can recognize a vacuum tubes due to its close appearance of an old fashioned light bulb. Vacuum tubes create a huge amount of heat when in operation and require both extensive monitoring for failure and extensive cooling to keep the system working. Were the only way to make these complex circuits. Vacuum tubes are much larger, need more energy, less reliable, and much slower than a solid state chip. The UNIVAC used an incredible 5200 vacuum tubes to create the necessary circuitry to make it work. Something had to change in the quest for faster and more reliable computing. In order to facilitate the shrinking of computer equipment, a new technology needed to be invented and used to form the complex circuitry needed to power modern computer systems. In modern technologies, solid state chips are used to make our complex devices, gadgets, and computers. Solid state chips have no moving parts allowing for the creation of more robust computer equipment. Using these chips, people can now carry a fully functional computer system in their pocket. Cell phones, while not as snappy as a full computer system, are hundreds if not thousands of times faster than the UNIVAC system, which is hard to believe. The UNIVAC started this revolutionary change. Without this catalyst, modern day life would not be possible. Businesses would still be keeping records by hand. People would still only have the telephone or ?snail mail? to communicate with one another. The modern computer era, in part, finds its roots from the UNIVAC system.