3 of 10Image
Sperry was founded in 1910 as a manufacturer of navigational equipment. It later diversified into military aircraft components, including the ball turret guns used on World War II bombers. After the war, it turned its attention to computers.
The company bought typewriter-maker Remington Rand, which had previously picked up the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC) — founded by the Eniac inventors — in 1955. What was by then known as Sperry Rand went on develop EMCC's successful Universal Automatic Computer (Univac) series of mainframes and peripherals — including the Sperry Univac 1100/80 Computer, pictured above — which remained an industry mainstay for decades.
In 1986, Sperry Corporation merged with its competitor Burroughs Corporation to become Unisys, which now provides services rather than making machines. Non-computing divisions of Sperry, which produced such diverse items as electric razors and manure spreaders, were sold off. The only former Sperry division to retain that name is Sperry Marine, which — in a neat piece of symmetry — makes navigation equipment.
Photo credit: Erick M Griffin
CDC was formed in 1957 as a spin-off of Sperry. It started off by selling memory systems, but in 1958 the now-legendary Seymour Cray signed up. The company released what could be described as the first minicomputer — the 160A — in 1960, but its attention soon turned to producing the fastest computers available.
The CDC 6600 (pictured) came out in 1964, trouncing the competition. It was at least 10 times faster than any rival computer, with a standard mathematical operations rate of 500 kiloflops. The 6600 inspired a series of retaliatory tactics from IBM — the ACS-1, which never made it to production, and the non-existent Model 92 — that may have failed, but nonetheless hit sales of CDC's machine through an early campaign of 'fear, uncertainty and doubt' (FUD).
Although Cray left in 1972, CDC continued to dominate the world of supercomputing during the first half of that decade. After the first Cray-1 was installed in 1976, CDC's lead in the field slipped. The company tried to move into other markets, gaining considerable success from sales of high-performance hard drives. However, it pulled out of hard drives in 1988, and what was left of CDC ended up being merged into BT's Global Services unit soon after.
Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson
ICL started off as an initiative of the Wilson government — specifically technology minister Tony Benn — to create a strong British rival to the likes of IBM. Formed from various smaller companies in 1968, it began life with two mainframe product lines: the IBM System/360-compatible System 4 and the ICT 1900 series, which was not compatible with any other company's products.
ICL launched a new line, the 2900 Series, in 1974. Running the Virtual Machine Environment (VME) operating system, these machines were able to emulate both of their predecessors. The ICL Series 39 range of mainframes and minicomputers, introduced in 1985, included major hardware advances such as the use of optical fibres for central interconnect.
In 1984, ICL was taken over by Standard Telephones and Cables (STC) in a move that foresaw the convergence of computers and telecoms. Subsequent acquisitions included that of Nokia Data in 1991, taking ICL into the PC and desktop software markets.
However, ICL's long-standing partnership with Fujitsu became more permanent around that time, with the Japanese company buying up 80 percent of ICL in 1990. When Fujitsu Siemens was formed in 1999, the ICL brand was finally dropped from its PC and server lines.
Photo credit: HendrikHAM