Lexikon's History of Computing

From Gyroscopes to Computers:

The Pre-History of UNISYS

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Most people will recognize the name UNISYS, the second largest computer company in the world. UNISYS, which stands for "UNIted SYStems," was formed by the merger of two Fortune 100 companies, Burroughs and Sperry.

Although mergers and acquisitions in the computer field are not new, the colorful history of UNISYS and its related companies provides a fascinating example of the eclectic evolution of the computing industry and sheds a spotlight on some of the entrepreneurial talent of early business pioneers.


The Burroughs name dates back to 1886, when the American Arithmometer Company marketed adding machines invented by William Seward Burroughs. It officially became "Burroughs Adding Machine Company" in 1905.

Burroughs seriously entered the digital computing arena in 1956 with the purchase of ElectroData Corporation, makers of the "Datatron," a successful mid-sized computer.


Sperry's roots date back to 1910. In that year, Elmer A. Sperry, a brilliant inventor and businessman, founded "Sperry Gyroscope Company," makers of gyrocompasses and other directional finding devices.


Sperry Corporation used to be called "Sperry Rand." "Rand" came from the family that operated the "Rand-Kardex" office machine business. In the early 1920's, James H. Rand, Jr. built a $10 million dollar business based on his father's patented record keeping system. In 1927, his company, Rand-Kardex, merged with five different companies: Remington Typewriter, Dalton Adding Machine Company, Powers Accounting Machine Corporation, and the Safe Cabinet Company. The new combined company was called "Remington Rand."


The name "Remington" had of course been famous since Eliphalet and Philo Remington ran the Remington Arms Company in 1828. They produced the successful Remington rifle. Having excellent business and factory skills, and seeing a potential new industry, the Remingtons bought the rights to Christopher Shole's early typewriter machine in 1873.

By 1893, Remington was not only producing typewriters, it had bought out or merged with the following competitor companies:

o Standard Typewriter Company

o Yost Writing Machine Company

o Monarch Typewriter Company

o Densmore Typewriter Company, and

o Smith Premier Typewriter Company.

Remington also made sewing machines and became well known for their electric razors.


(See also Remington Rand Early Computers and Remington Rand Model 409 History (article)


(See also Remington Arms Company)


UNIVAC Division

In 1950, Remington Rand purchased the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Company (the first real computer company in the United States). J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly were the designers and builders of the ENIAC (1946) and UNIVAC (1951), two of the most famous names in early digital computers. )

The Eckert-Mauchly Computer Company, now absorbed by Remington Rand, became its "UNIVAC Division." For a while, the whole company was promoted in advertisements as "Remington Rand UNIVAC" since the name "UNIVAC" had become synonymous with computers.

In 1951, UNIVAC I became the first commercially available computer.

In 1952, Remington Rand bought Engineering Research Associates (ERA), leader in electronic communications and cryptographic equipment. When Sperry joined up in 1955, the name of this whole collection of companies was changed again, this time to "Sperry Rand."

Sperry Rand

In 1971, Sperry Rand expanded its computer business when it paid $490 million for RCA's computer operations. RCA was eager to get out of the highly competitive computer field.

In 1979, Sperry Rand decided to change its name to "Sperry Corporation." Sperry made a variety of computer equipment, including the Sperry Personal Computer.


(See Sperry Corporation and other STOCK CERTIFICATES.)

The Birth of UNISYS

Burroughs, meanwhile, was busily making and selling computers and had acquired companies such as Systems Development Corporation (SDC) and Memorex. Each concerned by the growing competition in the computer field, and slightly uncomfortable sitting in IBM's megalithic shadow, Burroughs and Sperry Corporation worked out a merger in 1986 that created a single $10.5 billion dollar company, with over 90,000 employees in over 100 countries.

The new UNISYS, now with a somewhat heterogeneous computer product line, started producing its first 80386 based microcomputers in 1987.

In 1993, NASDAQ Stock Market, Inc. signed a 5-year, $25 million contract with UNISYS for two of its 2200/900 mainframe computer systems. The UNISYS systems and support will be used to handle NASDAQ's 800 million share per day trading volume, at its Trumbull, Connecticut and Rockville, Maryland data centers.

Certainly a long way from gyroscopes, typewriters, razors and sewing machines!

See Also:


Sperry Products (Sperry Gyroscope Company, Sperry Company)

Typewriter Remington Sperry Rand (1960)


UNISYS Mainframe (example) (c1990)

UNISYS Printer & Tape Drive (for mainframe) (1990s)

Unitrex 91M handheld calculator

UNIVAC 1 - (Grace Hopper) (1957)

UNIVAC 1 - At the Census Bureau (1951)

UNIVAC 1 - Full View - A (1951)

UNIVAC 1 - Full View - B (1951)

UNIVAC -1 Tape Units (1951)

UNIVAC 1107 (1961)

UNIVAC 9200 (1966)

UNIVAC Circuit Boards (1950's)

UNIVAC Core Memory (1950's)

UNIVAC Digital Recording Tape (1950's)

UNIVAC File Computer Advertisement (1956)

UNIVAC Punched Cards (1950's)

UNIVAC Punched Paper Tape (1950's)

UNIVAC Resistor Board (1950's)

UNIVAC Solid State 80 (manual) (1959)

UNIVAC Small Diode Board (1950's)

UNIVAC Tube Board (1950's)

UNIVAC Vacuum Tube (1950's)

UNIVAC 1103A Scientific Computer (manual) (1958)

UNIVAC II Data Automation System (manual) (1957) 

UNIVAC System Dates

UNIVAC Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)



A 1955 Remington Rand electric shaver.


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