Gallery: A look back at UNIVAC

Gallery: A look back at UNIVAC

Summary: UNIVAC I was the first commercially marketed programmable digital computer that created an industry.

TOPICS: Hardware

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  • Promotional material for the UNIVAC I computer, Circa 1952. Tape storage, Core memory module and main console depicted.

    Photo credit: Jason Perlow

  • Promotional material for the UNIVAC I computer, Circa 1948.

    Photo credit: Jason Perlow

  • Sales verbiage for the UNIVAC computer, 1948.

    Photo credit: Jason Perlow

Topic: Hardware


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • fun stuff

    I understand that Seymour Cray did some work on the ERA (Electronic Research Associates) 1101, and that it was designated as such because it was under contract #13.
  • 1st generation computers

    And now, this old lady is the only first gen machine still in one peice in the world.
    • 4th?

      Hardly "literally the 4th computer" in the world... maybe the 4th country to have a 4+ ton digital beast like this, but there were a number of such machines of various stripe in Britain and the US prior to Rand selling them like this in '48.

      Down under y'all invented the "technicolor yawn" and many such important innovations, I'll grant you that. But develop computers? Why would you do that? The lottery was still at minimum 3 decades off into the future!

      And mind you Angus is still pure analog.
      • 4th stored program computer

        According to Wikipedia, it was the fourth stored program computer in the world, and the first to play digital music.
      • Music


        I worked with people in the early 80's that recounted stories of having to program IBM machines to print output where print mechanism would vibrate in such a way as to play Christmas carols. All to impress the big boss.

        Maybe the same method was used for the Univacs?
      • lol

        I don't know who's right or wrong here but I do know that "according to wikipedia..." is rarely a good argument :-p
  • Music

    In 1965 I worked for a company that did a lot of tours and computer demos for school children. The computer room was a little dull for younger children. In order to interest the younger generation we set up a "computer band". The computer was GE 225 which we had hacked the output of two flip-flops on a control board into a stereo amplifier and speakers. The speakers were placed near a high speed ribbon printer. The ever clever programmers wrote a program to control the flip-flops to produce various instrumental songs thru the speakers. The printer was programmed to print in a matter that that sounded like a drum section. Sounded great and held children's interest.

    Much better than tic-tac-toe on the console!
    • More music

      On the series of mainframes I worked with not that long ago in the last century, we had some enterprising types who wrote programs to spin mag tapes with varying record sizes that produced quite credible tones.

      This elicited a bit of awe from operators or anyone else in the usually dull din of the computer room. The techique was improved upon with multiple drives for multi-tones or stereo. Who needs a sound card?
    • GE 225

      Cool - my dad helped design the GE 225 and GE 325 - he designed GCOS. Name was Sherbie Gangwere. There is a picture of the 225 and 235 at

      The two guys are really the same person - Charlie Winter.
      The two guys of the picture on the GE 235 are the same person, Dick Hoelne if memory serves. Charlie was a multi-talented person, including being a master photographer.

      There were 7 guys from the 225/235 projects that went on to form a company and write CALL/360 and to the first Spectra-Physics UPC scanner. I cannot remember all the names, but Sherbie, Charlie, Don Fry, Dick Hoenle, George Fraine + two others.

      BTW - the GE manager was Arnold Spielberg. You may have heard of his son's modest movies.
  • Digital?

    I always thought UNIVAC meant UNIVersal Analog Computer. I think it may have been Mark Twain who said something about "..what you know that just ain't so." I guess I was distracted by that analog computer kit I got from Edmund Scientific.
    • Yes

      You may have just glimpsed over it but on image 9 of 13 at the page top in the section titled 'truly automatic' you can see the phrase "Univac (UNIVERSAL AUTOMATIC COMPUTER)"...
  • No Thanks.

    I have a Hoover.
  • no Core memory in UNIVAC I

    On picture 5, the legend says "Core memory module". The UNIVAC I did not have core memory. It used a mercury delay lines. This made it slower than the IBM 701 which used Williams Tubes (much faster, less reliable). Core memory came later (best technology for about 20 years).