The UNIVAC, or universal automatic computer, was invented by Eckert
, inventors of the ENIAC
. The UNIVAC was a general-purpose computer using Von-Neumann
’s concept of stored program
(we’re all kind of used to that today), with IO device
s including magnetic tape
in addition to the standard punch card
, a printer, and a typewriter with standard typewriter keyboard. The UNIVAC could store 1000 word
s and could perform over 1000 calculations per second. By today’s standards the UNIVAC may have seemed slightly large – its whole streamlined look, with 5400 vacuum tubes, took 352 square feet of floor space and weighed around 8 tons.
Production of the UNIVAC was harder than Eckert and Mauchly predicted. In 1947 they began the basic R&D phase that took around a year (twice as long as they expected), and manufacture began in 1948, with a $400,000 contract with the American census bureau. The Eckert and Mauchly Computer Corporation could not complete the project on its own, and was sold to the Remington-Rand Corporation.
The first UNIVAC-I was delivered to the census bureau in 1951, and the model slowly became more popular in government and business circles. All in all, 46 machines had been sold by 1957.
A famous anecdote about the UNIVAC relates to the Eisenhower-Stevenson elections in 1952. A UNIVAC was fed with the first 1% of votes collected, and predicted the Eisenhower victory. This seemed so unlikely to the broadcaster reporting the experiment, that he reported that “the computer is stumped”. When the final results came in the broadcaster admitted his misreport, and UNIVAC was glorified as a better political analyzer than those employed by the press (don’t blame me people are stupid). This probably inspired stories such as The Machine That Won The War.