Top Ten Things Not to Do at the Dedication of the UNIVAC , The First Commercially Produced Electronic Digital Computer in 1951

 

Top Ten Things not to do

 

This week marks the anniversary of the dedication in 1951 of UNIVAC, the first commercially produced electronic digital computer. The computer was designed and built for the Census Bureau. The engineers that developed the UNIVAC, J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly sold their company to Remington Rand in 1950 before the launch. If you want to go and be part of the dedication, please take this list with you. We all know we must be cautious when time traveling to prevent any tears in the time continuum.

Top Ten Things Not to Do at the Dedication of the UNIVAC computer in 1951.

10 If you go, do not make comments regarding the size of the computer. If you do, at best, no one will pay attention to you. At worse, you are overheard by Eckert. (Yes, the machine is enormous, Lancelot. It weighs 16,000 pounds, but Eckert looks a little upset since this model is about a quarter the size of his last. I think you might apologize quickly.)

9 If you go, do not try to teach Tiny the WWF champ any programming language. If you do, at best he’ll think you are kidding. At worst, Tiny will realize that he is not teachable. (You have a bit of a problem, Landry. You see, Tiny has been ordered by the court to attend self-esteem group sessions. The last session got him to know that he was okay. Your attempts to explain basic programming just set him back four years. He’s looking for someone to blame. Point at John Mauchly quick.)

8 If you go, do not scoff when J Presper Eckert brags about the ability of the machine to perform 1905 instructions per second. If you do, at best, he will think you have hay fever. At worst, he’ll call upon you to explain your scoff. (You are on the spot now, X. See when you scoff knowing your iPhone can do 3.2 billion instructions per second you are going to have a tough time explaining your way out of this one. Maybe you should just admit to hay fever.)

7 If you go, do not make jokes about the heat from the 5000 vacuum tubes. If you do, at best, one or two may get the joke. At worst, John Mauchly will ask you to take your marshmallow stick and leave the premises. (Now you have made him angry, Langley. Of course, he doesn’t know that transistors would be available within five years. If he did, he would think you were a genius instead of ending up upside down in the alley.)

6 If you go, do not take your iPad. If you do, at best, people will think it is a clipboard. At worst, J Presper Eckert will spot you doing some calculations on it. (Don’t worry, Laochailan. Just hit the screen hide and show him your clipboard screen saver. He’ll never know.)

5 If you go, do not ask Eckert about punch card inputs. If you do, at best, he will be flattered since there are none. At worst, he ‘ll be insulted since he and Mauchly worked hard to make a digital electronic input system without the need for punch cards. (Now you have Eckert yelling at you, Laramie. He thinks you are a punch card fan and too dumb to recognize his achievement. Just tell him you were kidding and to put that chair back under the desk.)

4 If you go, do not ask to speak to someone from the computer science department. If you do, at best no one will be available for weeks. At worst, you will talk to a person who will speak a different language. (Not to worry Largo. Here is a handy reference for talking to computer science people. There are three columns and twenty rows of words. All you have to do is pick a word from one column, add it to another word in the next column, and finally tack it on to a third word. Put it all in a sentence, and you are good to go. For example. “Can you guys integrate bipolar terminals and publish a report on the results?” The guy will say he’ll look into it but is totally impressed.)

3 If you go, do not mention IBM around anyone in the room. If you do, at best, you will be near the coffee server. At worst, you’ll be taken as a spy. (Well, Larue, how does it feel sitting here with the eggshells?)

2 If you go, do not ask Eckert if the computer can predict presidential elections. If you do, at best, he’ll laugh. At worst, he’ll want to know where you got the information on his secret pet project. (Of course, Laszlo you didn’t read your history. You didn’t realize the UNIVAC surprised the world by predicting the outcome of the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s unexpected landslide victory in November of 1952. You now have a lot of explaining to do.)

1 If you go, do not ask Eckert and Mauchly why they sold their company to Remington Rand. If you do, at best, both will be talking to someone else and not hear you. At worst, they will help you out to the ally, which has been your home away from home, it seems. (The problem is Lathan these guys are terrific engineers but horrible businessmen. They were lucky to see before they went bankrupt.)

81 comments

  1. I’m always surprised by the size of old computers.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The first one done by these guys took up 15,000 square feet and had 12,000 tubes.

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  2. We’ve come a long way in less than seventy years. I wonder how the good folk in 2090 will view what we’re working with now? Consider, too, that making calls on a watch (and a number of other things) was the stuff of fantasy in the 50s and 60s but quite commonplace now – and how does the combination of smartphone and Wikipedia stack up against the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All good questions, Keith. I have never read Hitchhikers Guide. It is on my list but way down there somewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, John. I have to confess to being influenced by Douglas Adams’ style.

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      2. I’ll have to get on it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Gwen M. Plano · ·

    Thinking back over the years, advancements in technology are pretty stunning. Who could have imagined we’d be so dependent now? This is a great Top Ten list. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Gwen. More advancements to come I’m sure. Dependent is a good word. I can’t imagine leaving the house without my phone.

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  4. Great list, John! I remember the first computer I worked with at the Pentagon as a summer-hire for the Secretary of Defense…it was massive!

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    1. When I started working the computer was in a massive air conditioned room with a door that had a sign “no admittence.” Takes me back. Thanks, Jill

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      1. I remember the servers being in rooms like that. Yes, it does take you back…maybe to better times.

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      2. I don’t know. Seemed pretty stressful to me at the time.

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  5. 5,000 vacuum tubes?! I remember seeing an exhibit of the first computer at the Boston Museum of Science when I was a kid. The docent made a point of saying that it took up an entire room. I wonder if the exhibit was the UNIVAC.

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    1. Coud well be, Liz. The thing was huge.

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  6. A moment in history I would have enjoyed being at. I would have kept my mouth shut, except when my jaw dropped at some of the stats. Maybe I could teach Tiny to spell his name in the display lights. Ouch, maybe not.

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    1. That would be fun. Tiny would be forever in your debt. Thanks, Dan

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  7. When I was head payroll clerk for Walbaum supermarkets, we had our own IBM system across the hall from me. My card got stuck to another one, so I didn’t get paid for 3 weeks. The IBM dept. kept saying they had it fixed, can I bring this up to Tiny?

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    1. Boy, that sure blows, even as a distant memory.

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      1. Computers are not infallible, even today. But I thought it ironic that the HEAD payroll clerk couldn’t get paid for 3 weeks!!

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      2. Think how he felt.

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    2. I think you can tell Tiny, but I would do it with a remote signaling device. Thanks, GP. I also remember getting college computer generated grades one semester that were wrong. “Sure they’ve made a mistake. It is always someone else’s mistake,” was my mother’s opinion in reading the two Fs and Two Bs. Three days laer the correction came through. Two As and Two Bs.

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      1. I took extra college courses in the late ’80s and the computer said I didn’t answer 30 questions!! I told the prof, “I may have the answers wrong, but I DID answer them ALL!” sure enough, it was the computer!

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      2. Many of those kind of mistakes happened. Hopefully it got cleared up before any damage.

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      3. haha, the poor prof checked on it immediately and he decided he would hand grade each test from then on by hand.

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      4. I don’t blame him. Those optical readers were not perfect.

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  8. Computers have come a looooong way! Can you imagine yourself without a computer today?

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    1. No, it’s more important than my wallet.

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      1. I hear ya.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. My computer is my wallet. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      3. 😁With a little help from my phone.

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      4. I like these historic with a Catskills slant to them, tales of yours.

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      5. Hahaha. I like that Catskills reference. 😁

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    2. No I can’t, Dale. I cna’t imagine doing without a phone too. 😊

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      1. Definitely not!!

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      2. Yikes, where is my phne? Oh, I’m talking on it.

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      3. Tee hee!

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      4. Tee Hee indeed.

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  9. So they were Steve Jobs predecessors. Even he had mentors. Interesting. I assumed it would be the size of a fridge with R2-D2 at the keyboard.

    LOVE…DON’T TAKE YOUR iPad. I imagine it would be confiscated at the door. You’re a riot John.

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    1. Thank you, Susannah. Glad you liked it. 😁

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  10. While touring the National History Museum in Washington DC with my kids, we came upon the room devoted to computing.

    “I worked on that one,” I said, while pointing to a machine on display.

    “And that one.”

    “And that one and that one and that one and that one.”

    “Gosh dad…….” an embarrassed daughter said, “people are listening

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahaha. I know what you mean.

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  11. I love watching old spy movies and science fiction for this very reason. You’ll see stuff like this in the background, because it was cutting edge in its day.

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    1. So true. The more the lights blinked and the digital reels spun the better.

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  12. I enjoyed this because when I interviewed for the position I ultimately got at UNC, I was proudly shown their computer – it filled an entire room. Strangely, I had brought my PC with me! I was the first in the department to have one.

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    1. That is a great story, Noelle. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. I guess we have to start somewhere. Thanks for letting us see how face we’ve come … and to think it’s only been just sixty-some years!!

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    1. That is true. Yet almost a lifetime.

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  14. And to think punch cards started out with weaving machines – AKA looms. Digital input ? They were still using punch cards into the late 70’s. I guess a bad idea once it catches on is hard to get rid of. Just where was Tiny when we really needed him ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The capital outlay for the earlier machines made it tough to switch over to new. Punch cards were the normal.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. What a wonderful anniversary! Thanks, dear John! The old machines couldn’t suspect about a brilliant future of their far off-springs! 🙂

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    1. You are so right. The old machines would never have thought up where we are today. Thanks, Maria.

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      1. 🙂 🙂 🙂 At your service, dear John! And at the service of technology)))))

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hahahaha. Thanks. Maria.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. D.L. Finn, Author · ·

    I enjoyed this list. It amazes me thinking of the progress we’ve made.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is totally amazing, Denise. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. It is amazing how far and how fast computers have come since the first conception. Great top ten list, John, and of course, always entertaining!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jan. Always nice to hear.

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  18. 16,000 pounds?!! You best have a titanium steel desk to put that puppy on. . .

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    1. Or a sold concrete floor.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Loved this! How far are we away from Kirk flipping open a device and saying ‘Beam me up Scotty? The pace of technology is fast outstripping my knowledge of how to best use it. Methinks this old dog will have trouble learning these new tricks. 🙄

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you will be fine. You have a brain and that’s all you need.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out another great top ten list from John Howell’s blog. This one is the TOP TEN THINGS NOT TO DO AT THE DEDICATION OF THE UNIVAC , THE FIRST COMMERCIALLY PRODUCED ELECTRONIC DIGITAL COMPUTER IN 1951

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Don.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome.

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  21. Makes me think about the huge computer that took up a whole room in the 80s movie War Games, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They were huge for sure, Teri. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. 1905 vs 3.2 billion? Jesus H. Christ! Some good info in this one. And for once, I’ve got nothing to add. But I’ll get you next week.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Always happy to have your comments even without an add.

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  23. Wouldn’t you love to see those guys transported to the future and walk into an Apple store? They’d either have a heart attack or apply for a job.

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    1. That would be fun to do. I think they would be so amazed.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. The most amazing thing about this post was your mention of the tubes used, and transistors. It never had occurred to me that there was a connection between the Univac computer and the television set I grew up with: the tubes that we took down to the drugstore for testing whenever the tv “went on the blink.” Beyond that, I can’t remember the last time I heard someone use the phrase “transistor radio” in conversation. Amazing, really.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so right, Linda. I think it has been an amazing transition. Thank you. 😊

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