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Artist: Vallabh Namshikar
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J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, famous for being one of the earliest creators of computers for commercial purposes, had first developed the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) in the mid 40s in the Moore School of Electrical Engineering, University of Pennsylvania; where Eckert had been studying and Mauchly had been teaching at that time.

After that, due to intellectual property issues over ENIAC, both Eckert and Mauchly left the Moore School, and started their firm, Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC), which was initially called as the Electronic Control Company, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of EMCC’s earliest products was BINAC (BINary Automatic Computer), a computer commissioned by Northrop Aviation. However, whether it was put to use by Northrop or not is not known.

When Eckert approached the Bureau of the Census with the idea of designing a computer for them, it accepted his proposal and agreed to majorly fund its development. EMCC then began developing their iconic computer design, the UNIVAC (UNIVersal Automatic Computer) for them. But in the meanwhile, the loss of the main funder of EMCC, Harry L. Strauss, who was killed in an aeroplane accident in 1949, immersed EMCC in big financial troubles, and put a temporary stall to UNIVAC’s development. Therefore, it had no option but to be taken over by Remington Rand, a typewriter manufacturing company in 1950. The Eckert-Mauchly duo then worked under the former Manhattan Project manager Leslie Groves.

It wasn't until 1951, that they completed designing and manufacturing the UNIVAC I mainframe computer, which was then delivered to the Bureau of the Census. Being one of the most iconic products of that time, UNIVAC I proved its caliber by correctly predicting the 1952 US Presidential election. What was even more significant was that the prediction was drastically opposite to what every other expert thought the result would be.

In fact, when the prediction of 100-1 odds for an Eisenhower victory was made by UNIVAC I, the CBS news head at that time, Mickelson, thought that the computer was “bonkers”. Therefore, to invalidate the computer’s prediction, the CBS people said that the UNIVAC I was stuck and that it predicted a Eisenhower victory with a small margin of 8-7. When the election results were out and UNIVAC I was proved right, Charles Collingwood, the on-air newsreader for CBS, had to reveal, to everyone’s utter astonishment, about the computer’s bullseye prediction.

The journey from UNIVAC to Unisys:
Remington Rand had already been into the tabulating machine business with a lab in Norwalk, Connecticut, before it bought EMCC, which it renamed as the UNIVAC division. Moreover, it also bought the Engineering Research Associates (ERA) company a little while later. Rand ran these 3 sections separately to cater to varied clients; with the lab creating tabulating machines, ERA looking after computers for scientific purposes, and UNIVAC developing computers for commercial purposes. When Remington Rand decided to unite these sections together under the UNIVAC banner to streamline their business in 1953-54, it demoralised and disgruntled those who were working with the lab and ERA.

In 1955, Remington Rand had amalgamated with the Sperry Corporation and became the Sperry Rand, with General Douglas MacArthur heading it. The UNIVAC computer business of Remington Rand continued to prosper under Sperry Rand, and became one of the top 8 computer companies in the USA in the 60s, all of which came to be allegorically addressed as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” with IBM leading the pack, and Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR, CDC, GE, RCA and Honeywell following it.

However, by the 70s, the computer market became smaller, with GE and RCA selling their computer businesses to Honeywell and UNIVAC respectively. In the late 70s, Sperry Rand decided to reinvent itself with the changing times; Sperry, which was into a variety of businesses such as electric razors, typewriters, etc., saw the potential market in computers, and sold the rest of its segments, and resolved to focus its attention only on UNIVAC. Dropping the Rand from its name, it went back to being called Sperry Corporation. However, not long after, it combined with Burroughs Corporation to be now called Unisys. Though Unisys continues to develop and manufacture computers for businesses even now, its core areas lean toward IT related services, outsourcing and consultancy services.


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