(UNIVAC Frequently Asked Questions -- This edition dated: October 2001


What does UNIVAC stand for?

Universal Automatic Computer.


Who created the UNIVAC?

The UNIVAC was designed by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly. It was began in about 1946 and completed in March 1951. The name UNIVAC was chosen in 1947.


What is so special about the UNIVAC?

The UNIVAC was the first mass produced commercial business computer. This means it was the first computer that businesses could actually order and purchase, back in 1951. Prior to this, most computers built were "one of a kind" machines that were not mass-produced. In the case of the UNIVAC I, only 46 were made, but that was considered mass production for the time.


How many UNIVACs were there?

There were 46 UNIVAC model I computers built. They didnít get the name UNIVAC I until later computers were built (such as the UNIVAC II, UNIVAC III, etc.). Many computers had the UNIVAC name, which was used up until about 1983.


Who owned the UNIVAC company?

The UNIVAC was built by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, from 1946 to 1951. They formed the "Electronic Control Company" in around 1946. They named their company the "Eckert Mauchly Computer Company ("EMCC") in 1947. Their company was purchased by Remington Rand in 1950. The EMCC became the UNIVAC Division of Remington Rand. Remington Rand advertised their name as "Remington Rand UNIVAC." In 1955, Sperry Corporation merged with Remington Rand to become Sperry Rand. They kept the name UNIVAC as the UNIVAC Division of Sperry Rand. Sperry merged with Burroughs in 1986 to form UNISYS.


How fast was the first UNIVAC?

The first UNIVAC had a memory speed of 500 microseconds. This was extremely fast for 1951. The UNIVAC used magnetic tape for input and mercury delay line storage (sonic pulses were transmitted through liquid mercury tubes).


What are the specifications of the UNIVAC I?

The machine was 25 feet by 50 feet in length, contained 5,600 tubes, 18,000 crystal diodes, and 300 relays. It utilized serial circuitry, 2.25 MHz bit rate, and had an internal storage capacity 1,000 words or 12,000 characters. It utilized a Mercury delay line, magnetic tape, and typewriter output. The UNIVAC was used for general purpose computing with large amounts of input and output. Power consumption was about 120 kva. Its reported processing speed was 0.525 milliseconds for arithmetic functions, 2.15 milliseconds for multiplication and 3.9 Milliseconds for division. The UNIVAC was also the first computer to come equipped with a magnetic tape unit and was the first computer to use buffer memory.


Did the UNIVAC use metal recording tape?

Yes, the UNIVAC used nickel-plated bronze metal recording tape. The individual reels weighed about 4 pounds each. Smaller reels were about 3 pounds.


When was the UNIVAC I completed?

It passed its formal acceptance testing in March 1951 and was delivered on June 14, 1951, to the U.S. Census Bureau.


Who was the first non-government customer to purchase a UNIVAC?

Prudential Insurance Company in 1952.


How did the UNIVAC name become so popular?

One reason UNIVAC became popular is that it was shown on television in 1952 to predict the presidential election. The UNIVAC correctly calculated that Eisenhower would win, even though only a tiny percentage of the votes were in. The TV network staff did not believe the UNIVAC at first and later had to admit that UNIVAC had correctly predicted the election well before it was over. Another reason the UNIVAC became famous is that it was the first computer to be "mass produced" and although only 46 of the first model were made, many other computers in the Remington Rand (later Sperry Rand) line used the name UNIVAC also. The name UNIVAC appeared in many publications and movies and became synonymous with "computer."


Where is the original UNIVAC today?

The original UNIVAC I is in the Smithsonian Institution.


Did Grace Hopper work on the UNIVAC?

In 1949, Grace Hopper joined the newly created Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation. Eckert-Mauchly were developing the BINAC binary computer, which Grace Hopper programmed in octal.. Grace Hopper did early programming work on the UNIVAC in the 1950's. Grace Hopper remained part of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Company even after its acquisition by Remington Rand and later Sperry Rand. She retired from the UNIVAC Division of Sperry Rand in 1971.


What is the relationship of the UNIVAC to the ENIAC and BINAC?

The ENIAC, BINAC and UNIVAC were all primarily designed by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly. The ENIAC filled an entire room and was operational in 1946 and contained over 18,000 vacuum tubes. It was a one-of-a-kind computer. It was used by the U.S. Army. No other ENIACS were ever made. The BINAC was 20 square feet in size, utilized 700 tubes, mercury delay lines, and was a general purpose computer.


Are there still UNIVACs today?

The name UNIVAC has not been used for new computer systems since Sperry dropped the name UNIVAC in 1983 or so. There are probably some old UNIVAC models running in various places today. There were many later computers (1953 to 1983) that used the name UNIVAC.


Who were J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly? . [J. Presper Eckert (1941-1995); John Mauchly (1907-1980)]

J. Presper Eckert was born in Philadelphia. In 1941, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Engineering. Eckert was a brilliant pioneer in the computer field, having been co-inventor of the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) with John Mauchly.. Eckert and Mauchly started their own computer company which was the first computer company in the United States. They co-developed the BINAC as well as the UNIVAC.

John Mauchly was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1907. He received his Ph.D. in Physics in 1932. In 1941, he joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Engineering. Mauchly was assigned to work in the area calculating ballistics tables for U.S. Army Ordnance. In 1942, he wrote a paper suggesting that an electronic calculator be constructed to perform ballistics calculations. In 1943, the suggestion was turned into a formal project by Herman Goldstein, who was stationed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. The project resulted in ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) which was completed in 1946. The ENIAC was a milestone in the development of computing technology. The ENIAC was about 1,000 times faster than other computing methods.

In 1965, both Eckert and Mauchly received the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Philadelphia Section Award for fundamental concepts and contributions to electronic computers and for the construction of the first all-electronic computer 


Where did the name "Sperry" come from in "Sperry Rand"?

Elmer A. Sperry, a brilliant inventor and businessman, founded "Sperry Gyroscope Company," makers of gyrocompasses and other directional finding devices. Sperry merged with Remington Rand in 1955.


Was there a UNIVAC Plant in Pennsylvania?

Yes, the UNIVAC Engineering Center in Whiteplain Township, Pennsylvania was one of the largest and most complete computer centers in the world in 1961. It was designed to contain working installations of the full spectrum of UNIVAC product line. It had over 300,000 square feet of floor space.


When did UNIVAC use COBOL?

In December 1960, COBOL was used to program a UNIVAC II computer as part of a demonstration to the Conference on Data System Languages (CODASYL) and was used on other systems after this point.


What was the UNIVAC TIC?

The UNIVAC TIC was a Target Intercept Computer built by UNIVAC in cooperation with Bell Telephone Laboratories. It was designed as the U.S. Government's high-speed, high reliability guidance system for the Army's Nike Zeus anti-ICBM missile.


What was the UNIVAC STEP?

The UNIVAC STEP was "Simple Transaction to Electronic Processing", a solid-state system developed by UNIVAC in August 1960. STEP was designed to take businesses from the mechanical tabulating world into the world of electronic data processing. It consisted of a central processing unit, high-speed card reader, high-speed printer and punch unit. STEP cold perform many varied record keeping jobs, such as payroll, sales analysis and production scheduling.


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


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