UNIVAC’s Birthday at the Census Bureau

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UNIVAC’s Birthday at the Census Bureau

UNIVAC-I-BRL61-0977A fun This Day in History given our anticipation of new U.S. census records on Monday: the first UNIVAC computer was delivered tothe United States Census Bureau on March 31, 1951, and was dedicated on June 14 that year. Isn’t it cool that the world’s first commercial computer was put to use at the Census Bureau?

As well as being the first American commercial computer, the UNIVAC I was the first American computer designed at the outset for business and administrative use (i.e., for the fast execution of large numbers of relatively simple arithmetic and data transport operations, as opposed to the complex numerical calculations required by scientific computers)…. The first sale, to the Census Bureau, was marked with a formal ceremony on March 31, 1951, at the Eckert–Mauchly Division’s factory at 3747 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia.

Some specs:

UNIVAC I used 5,200 vacuum tubes, weighed 29,000 pounds (13 metric tons), consumed 125 kW, and could perform about 1,905 operations per second running on a 2.25 MHz clock. The Central Complex alone (i.e. the processor and memory unit) was 4.3 m by 2.4 m by 2.6 m high. The complete system occupied more than 35.5 meters of floor space.

By contrast, my five-year-old iMac has a 667 MHz clock.

CNN commemorated the 50th anniversary of UNIVAC’s arrival at the Census Bureau with some fun facts here.

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine’s “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”