UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer) was a line of electronic digital stored-program computers starting with the products of the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation. Later the name was applied to a division of the Remington Rand company and successor organizations.
|Also known as||Universal Automatic Computer|
|Release date||March 1951|
|Successor||UNISYS 2200 series|
The BINAC, built by the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation, was the first general-purpose computer for commercial use, but it was not a success. The last UNIVAC-badged computer was produced in 1986.
J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly built the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) at the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Electrical Engineering between 1943 and 1946. A 1946 patent rights dispute with the university led Eckert and Mauchly to depart the Moore School to form the Electronic Control Company, later renamed Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC), based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That company first built a computer called BINAC (BINary Automatic Computer) for Northrop Aviation (which was little used, or perhaps not at all). Afterwards began the development of UNIVAC. UNIVAC was first intended for the Bureau of the Census, which paid for much of the development, and then was put in production.
With the death of EMCC's chairman and chief financial backer Henry L. Straus in a plane crash on October 25, 1949, EMCC was sold to typewriter maker Remington Rand on February 15, 1950. Eckert and Mauchly now reported to Leslie Groves, the retired army general who had previously managed building the Pentagon and the Manhattan Project, where he was exposed to ENIAC.
The most famous UNIVAC product was the UNIVAC I mainframe computer of 1951, which became known for predicting the outcome of the U.S. presidential election the following year: this incident is noteworthy because the computer predicted an Eisenhower landslide over Adlai Stevenson, whereas the final Gallup poll had Eisenhower winning the popular vote 51–49 in a close contest.
The prediction left CBS's news boss in New York, Sigfried Mickelson, to believe the computer was in error, and he refused to allow the prediction to be read. Instead, the crew showed some staged theatrics that suggested the computer was not responsive, and announced it was predicting 8–7 odds for an Eisenhower win (the actual prediction was 100–1 in his favour).
When the predictions proved true – Eisenhower defeated Stevenson in a landslide, with UNIVAC coming within 3.5% of his popular vote total and four votes of his Electoral College total – Charles Collingwood, the on-air announcer, announced that they had failed to believe the earlier prediction.
The United States Army requested a UNIVAC computer from Congress in 1951. Colonel Wade Heavey explained to the Senate subcommittee that the national mobilization planning involved multiple industries and agencies: "This is a tremendous calculating process...there are equations that can not be solved by hand or by electrically operated computing machines because they involve millions of relationships that would take a lifetime to figure out." Heavey told the subcommittee it was needed to help with mobilization and other issues similar to the invasion of Normandy that were based on the relationships of various groups.
Remington Rand had its own calculating machine lab in Norwalk, Connecticut, and later bought Engineering Research Associates (ERA) in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1953 or 1954 Remington Rand merged their Norwalk tabulating machine division, the ERA "scientific" computer division, and the UNIVAC "business" computer division into a single division under the UNIVAC name. This severely annoyed those who had been with ERA and with the Norwalk laboratory.
In 1955 Remington Rand merged with Sperry Corporation to become Sperry Rand. The UNIVAC division of Remington Rand was renamed the Univac division of Sperry Rand. General Douglas MacArthur was chosen to head the company. In the 1960s, UNIVAC was one of the eight major American computer companies in an industry then referred to as "IBM and the seven dwarfs" – a play on Snow White and the seven dwarfs, with IBM, by far the largest, being cast as Snow White and the other seven as being dwarfs: Burroughs, Univac, NCR, CDC, GE, RCA and Honeywell. In the 1970s, after GE sold its computer business to Honeywell and RCA sold its to Univac, the analogy to the seven dwarfs became less apt and the remaining small firms became known as the "BUNCH" (Burroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data, and Honeywell).
To assist "corporate identity" the name was changed to Sperry Univac, along with Sperry Remington, Sperry New Holland, etc. In 1978, Sperry Rand, a conglomerate of various divisions (computers, typewriters, office furniture, hay balers, manure spreaders, gyroscopes, avionics, radar, electric razors), decided to concentrate solely on its computing interests and all of the unrelated divisions were sold. The company dropped the Rand from its title and reverted to Sperry Corporation. In 1986, Sperry Corporation merged with Burroughs Corporation to become Unisys.
After the 1986 merger of Burroughs and Sperry, Unisys evolved from a computer manufacturer to a computer services and outsourcing firm, competing at that time in the same marketplace as IBM, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), and Computer Sciences Corporation.
Unisys continues to design and manufacture enterprise class computers with the ClearPath server lines.
In the course of its history, UNIVAC produced a number of separate model ranges. One early UNIVAC line of vacuum tube computers was based on the ERA 1101 and those models built at ERA were rebadged as UNIVAC 110x; despite the 1100 model numbers, they were not related to the latter 1100/2200 series. The 1103A is credited in the literature as the first computer to have interrupts.
The original model range was the UNIVAC I (UNIVersal Automatic Computer I), the second commercial computer made in the United States. The main memory consisted of tanks of liquid mercury implementing delay-line memory, arranged in 1000 words of 12 alphanumeric characters each. The first machine was delivered on 31 March 1951.
The UNIVAC II was an improvement to the UNIVAC I that UNIVAC first delivered in 1958. The improvements included magnetic (non-mercury) core memory of 2000 to 10000 words, UNISERVO II tape drives, which could use either the old UNIVAC I metal tapes or the new PET film tapes, and some circuits that were transistorized (although it was still a vacuum-tube computer). It was fully compatible with existing UNIVAC I programs for both code and data. The UNIVAC II also added some instructions to the UNIVAC I's instruction set.
Sperry Rand began shipment of UNIVAC III in 1962, and produced 96 UNIVAC III systems. Unlike the UNIVAC I and UNIVAC II, it was a binary machine as well as maintaining support for all UNIVAC I and UNIVAC II decimal and alphanumeric data formats for backward compatibility. This was the last of the original UNIVAC machines.
The UNIVAC Solid State was a 2-address, decimal computer, with memory on a rotating drum with 5000 signed 10-digit words, aimed at the general-purpose business market. It came in two versions: the Solid State 80 (IBM-Hollerith 80-column cards) and the Solid State 90 (Remington-Rand 90-column cards). This computer used magnetic logic, not transistors, because the transistors then available had highly variable characteristics and were not sufficiently reliable. Magnetic logic gates were based on magnetic cores with multiple wire windings; unlike vacuum tubes, they were solid-state devices and had a virtually infinite lifetime. The magnetic gates required drive pulses of current produced by a transmitter-type vacuum tube, of a type still used in amateur radio final amplifiers. Thus the Solid State depended, at the heart of its operations, on a vacuum tube, however, only a few tubes were required, instead of thousands, greatly increasing reliability.
The UNIVAC 1100/2200 series is a series of compatible 36-bit transistorized computer systems initially made by Sperry Rand. The series continues to be supported today by Unisys Corporation as the ClearPath Forward Dorado Series.
The 1107 was the first 36-bit, word-oriented machine with an architecture close to that which came to be known as that of the "1100 Series." It ran the EXEC I or EXEC II operating system, batch-oriented second-generation operating systems, typical of the early to mid-1960s. The 1108 ran EXEC II or EXEC 8. EXEC 8 allowed simultaneous handling of real-time applications, time-sharing, and background batch work. Transaction Interface Package (TIP), a transaction-processing environment, allowed programs to be written in COBOL whereas similar programs on competing systems were written in assembly language. On later systems, EXEC 8 was renamed OS 1100 and OS 2200, with modern descendants maintaining backwards compatibility. Some more exotic operating systems ran on the 1108 – one of which was RTOS, a more bare-bones system designed to take better advantage of the hardware.
The affordable System 80 series of small mainframes ran the OS/3 operating system which originated on the Univac 90/30 (and later 90/25, and 90/40).
The UNIVAC Series 90 first ran with Univac developed OS/9, which was later replaced by RCA's Virtual Memory Operating System (VMOS). RCA originally called this operating system Time Sharing Operating System (TSOS), running on RCA's Spectra 70 line of virtual memory systems and changed its name to VMOS before the Sperry acquisition of RCA CSD. After VMOS was ported to the 90/60, Univac renamed it VS/9.
UNIVAC has been, over the years, a registered trademark of:
... Robert Garner identified it as from the Univac 1004, ...
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