Making UNIVAC a Business

UNIVAC System brochure

UNIVAC, touted as the “first so-called ‘giant brain,’” was more realistically sold as a computer plus peripherals to solve business problems. Reliability and economy were key.

Making UNIVAC a Business

For John Mauchly and Presper Eckert, building a computer proved easier than building a computer company.

Having led the project that created ENIAC, they left academia in 1946, forming the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation to develop UNIVAC. Financing proved rocky, however. They were buoyed in 1948 by an investment from American Totalisator, a racetrack betting machine maker. But support collapsed when that company’s founder died in 1949.

Prospective deals with IBM, National Cash Register, and others never materialized. With time running out, they sold to the first bidder. Office equipment maker Remington Rand bought the company in 1950.

Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC) Employees

The 29 employees of the EMCC in Philadelphia gather in June 1949. In the front row Eckert is 3rd from left, and Mauchly 4th from right. The BINAC in the background is ready for delivery to Northrop in California.

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J. Presper Eckert's resignation letter from the Moore School

In his resignation letter, J. Presper ("Pres") Eckert emphasizes his disagreement with Irven Travis over patent rights to ENIAC and EDVAC, which Eckert felt should be part of his compensation.

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UNIVAC Means Business

UNIVAC’s creators first proposed their new computer to the Census Bureau. But they intended it for large businesses too. In 1954, General Electric became UNIVAC’s first commercial customer—and nearly spoiled UNIVAC’s commercial prospects.

GE bought a UNIVAC I to automate payroll, budget analysis, inventory control and other tasks at its appliance division. It underestimated the complexity of integrating the system, however. Reports of GE’s problems gave other potential customers the jitters.

Once fully operational in 1956, however, UNIVAC proved a boon, saving the company significant time on sales reports and other calculations.

General Electric refrigerator assembly line

General Electric was formed in 1892 by a merger that included Thomas Edison’s company. GE became one of the largest companies in the world by producing everything from light bulbs to nuclear power plants.

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General Electric Appliance Park, Louisville, KY

General Electric used a UNIVAC I at its Appliance Park in Louisville, Kentucky, an innovative factory producing dishwashers, refrigerators, and dryers. The company also pioneered customer call centers at that location in the 1980s.

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