On June 14th, 1951, the US Census Bureau dedicated UNIVAC, or UNIversal Automatic Computer, the world’s first commercially produced electronic digital computer.
In 1943 at the University of Pennsylvania, J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly set out to build a machine that would better calculate artillery-firing tables with support from a US Army Ordnance Dept. sponsorship. Three years later, in 1946, ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Calculator) was born at a cost of nearly a half-million dollars. With 17,000 vacuum tubes, it occupied 15,000 feet and relied on operating nearly 6,000 switches.
With this success, Eckert and Mauchly founded the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, which was later bought by Remington Rand in 1950. It would be Remington Rand in 1951 that would deliver UNIVAC 1 to the US Census Bureau.
UNIVAC 1 used some 5,200 vacuum tubes, weighed two tons, and could perform about 1,000 calculations per second. From 1950-1954, UNIVAC computers were installed for the US Census Bureau, Pentagon, US Army Map Service, NYU, Atomic Energy Commission, General Electric, MetLife, US Steel, Du Pont, Franklin Life Insurance, Westinghouse, Pacific Mutual Life Insurance, Sylvania Electric and Consolidated Edison.
When UNIVAC was commissioned, it was the first computer developed solely for business and administrative use and ultimately generated a greater public awareness for computers and computer technology.
By the 1960s and 70s, integrated-circuit technology began to phase out UNIVAC-style (vacuum tube) construction, and in the 1980s, microprocessors made computing even more accessible and mobile.
The Hawthorne Works, although not directly responsible for UNIVAC, was not without influence in the computing world. The technologies Western Electric and Bell Labs produced were not limited to telephony and telephone applications. Semiconductors technologies and millions of vacuum tubes with the WE logo found their way into use each year, adding to a legacy lasting far after Hawthorne’s doors closed in the ‘80s.