Archive, comprising 19 original in-house documents from J. Presper Eckert’s office, including blueprints, handwritten and typed notes from meetings, and product sample illustrations, 1960s-1970s.

N.p. n.p., n.d.

An extensive and unique archive revealing the inner workings of UNIVAC, the world’s first commercial computer. J. Presper Eckert, together with his partner John Mauchly, invented and constructed the first general-purpose digital computer (the ENIAC) during World War II. After the war he and Mauchly founded the first commercial computer company in the United States, the Electronic Control Co., soon renamed the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC). This company first developed the BINAC for Northrop Aviation, and later designed the UNIVAC, initially for the Bureau of the Census, which paid for much of its development. But the production of the BINAC essentially bankrupted the EMCC, and in 1949 it was sold to Remington Rand. “J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, almost alone in the early years, sought to build and sell a more elegant follow-on to the ENIAC for commercial applications. The ENIAC was conceived, built, and used for scientific and military applications. The UNIVAC, the commercial computer, was conceived and marked as a general-purpose computer suitable for any application that one could program it for. Hence the name: an acronym for ‘universal automatic computer’” (Ceruzzi, p. 51). “The first UNIVAC was delivered to the Census Bureau on 31 March 1951, and the remaining two were shipped within the next 18 months. The UNIVAC thus became the second electronic computer to be produced under contract for a commercial customer, only being beaten by Ferranti’s delivery of the Mark I to Manchester University about a month earlier. A further 43 UNIVACs were produced for sale to both government and industry; these established Remington-Rand as the world’s first large-scale computer company” (Williams, pp. 364-5). These unique documents provide an important historical look into Eckert’s work on early computers and his involvement with the project from its inception through the 1970s.

Provenance: from the collection of G. Richard Adams, who worked as an assistant to Eckert and was responsible for overseeing paperwork and filing for projects.

“After leaving the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, J. Presper Eckert, Jr., and John Mauchly, who had worked on the engineering design of the ENIAC computer for the United States during World War II, struggled to obtain capital to build their latest design, a computer they called the Universal Automatic Computer, or UNIVAC. (In the meantime, they contracted with the Northrop Corporation to build the Binary Automatic Computer, or BINAC, which, when completed in 1949, became the first American stored-program computer.) The partners delivered the first UNIVAC to the U.S. Bureau of the Census in March 1951, although their company, their patents, and their talents had been acquired by Remington Rand, Inc., in 1950. [In 1955 Remington Rand merged with Sperry Corporation to become Sperry Rand.] Although it owed something to experience with ENIAC, UNIVAC was built from the start as a stored-program computer, so it was very different architecturally. It used an operator keyboard and console typewriter for simple, or limited, input and magnetic tape for all other input and output. Printed output was recorded on tape and then printed by a separate tape printer.

“The UNIVAC I was designed as a commercial data-processing computer, intended to replace the punched-card accounting machines of the day. It could read 7,200 decimal digits per second (it did not use binary numbers), making it by far the fastest business machine yet built. Its use of Eckert’s mercury delay lines greatly reduced the number of vacuum tubes needed (to 5,000), thus enabling the main processor to occupy a ‘mere’ 14.5 by 7.5 by 9 feet (approximately 4.4 by 2.3 by 2.7 metres) of space. It was a true business machine, signaling the convergence of academic computational research with the office automation trend of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As such, it ushered in the era of ‘Big Iron’ large, mass-produced computing equipment” (Britannica).

The UNIVAC I remained in production until 1957 when Remington-Rand replaced it with the more sophisticated UNIVAC II. 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.

“One of the most dramatic events in the early days of computer usage took place on the evening of the 1952 presidential election. Several months earlier the CBS network had arranged to have a UNIVAC machine attempt to predict the outcome of the election based on a sample of the early returns … At 8.30 that evening, after only a very few results were available, the UNIVAC predicted a landslide victory for Eisenhower over Stevenson. Quick conferences between the computer people, election officials and CBS resulted in the decision that something must be wrong and the risk of publishing this result was not worth taking … In fact, Eisenhower won by almost exactly the landslide first predicted by UNIVAC, and many television and computer people went to bed that night feeling very sorry they had not taken advantage of the publicity they could have had for the developing computer industry” (Williams, pp. 366-7).

This unique archive is divided into three major sections:

Large ‘UNIVAC Uniservo 12 for 9-3 System’ blueprint dated 1973 and measuring 56 x 86cm. This document provides illustrative plans for the Uniservo 12, a tape drive that was the primary I/O device on the UNIVAC I computer. Its place in history is assured as it was the first tape drive for a commercially sold 77 computer. Originating from the Industrial Design Department, this document illustrates the ‘Front + Rear Door Thickness,’ ‘Side Elevation,’ ‘Front Elevation,’ ‘End Panel Thickness,’ ‘End Panel Width’ and the ‘Height’ compared to the ‘Old Height’ of the machine.

Large blueprint labeled ‘Pert Schedule for Low Cost Tape Control Unit (*623)’, with ‘E. Bingham’ as marked as ‘Layout,’ ‘Draftsman,’ and ‘Engineer.’ This Project Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) document measures approximately 56 x 43cm and includes a detailed map 1973-1975 beginning ‘Project Planning Report Submitted 2/1/73’, including ‘Release Software Specs 7/15/74,’ ‘Acceptance Spec Release 10/30/74,’ and ‘Transfer to Support Engineering 8/75.’ A valuable map with goals and data points about UNIVAC’s project development methods, some points are labeled ‘Tape Section’s Responsibility’ and others ‘Common Responsibility.’ Given that PERT is a method to analyze the involved tasks in completing a given project, especially the time needed to complete each task, and to identify the minimum time needed to complete the total project, it is well suited to UNIVAC’s uses and provides readers with valuable internal information about the project’s processes.

Collection of over 30 pages of handwritten notes, typed notes, and illustrations taken as dictation or notes by Richard Adams during his meetings with J.P. Eckert about printers over multiple dates from the 1960s to the early 1970s. Multiple pieces are labeled ‘J.P. Eckert Thoughts’ alongside the date of the meeting; other pieces are labeled ‘Conversation with J.P. Eckert,’ ‘J.P. Eckert Meeting’ or ‘Meeting with Pres’ and list any additional attendees. Among the papers are brainstorming sessions on printer design, ‘9-16-68 Coil should probably be longer than present which was chosen for minimum fringing – optimize circuit … optimize present actuator, build electromag/hydraulic actuator’ and ‘4-7-71 Meeting … AC cable prevents circuit from staying on accidentally … capacitators may be electrolytic since size may not be important. High voltage permits a big voltage drop in the R but a small percentage in the total power drop.’ Two pages have typed notes to Adams from J. Presper Eckert’s personal notepad.

Ceruzzi, Computing. A Concise History, 2012. Williams, A History of Computing Technology, 1985.


Item #5479

Price: $9,500.00

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