Today in labor history: First commercial computer installed in U.S.

UNIVAC I, was installed at the U.S. Census Bureau (which paid for much of the development) on June 14, 1951. UNIVAC is an acronym for UNIVersal Automatic Computer.

The computer was used to tabulate part of the 1950 population census and the entire 1954 economic census. Throughout the 1950’s, UNIVAC also played a key role in several monthly economic surveys. The computer excelled at working with the repetitive but intricate mathematics involved in weighting and sampling for these surveys.

UNIVAC is the name of a line of electronic digital stored-program computers starting with the products of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation. Later the name was applied to a division of the Remington Rand company (typewriter makers) and successor organizations. The descendants of the UNIVAC line continue today as products of the Unisys company.

UNIVAC has been, over the years, a registered trademark of: Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, Remington Rand Corporation, Sperry Corporation, Sperry Rand Corporation, Unisys Corporation.

According to the Census Bureau:

“The Census Bureau continued to use updated versions of Herman Hollerith’s 1890 electric counting machine through the 1940 census. Processing and tabulation technology took a great leap forward during World War II, when the War Department (precursor to the Department of Defense) began to explore the use of electronic digital computers to process ballistic information. After the war, many of that project’s engineers foresaw the peacetime benefits of such a device: computers had the ability to far outstrip the processing speed of older non-digital counting machines. Their efforts brought the Census Bureau into the computer age.”

UNIVAC I, as the first successful civilian computer, was a key part of the dawn of the computer age. Despite early delays, the UNIVAC program at the Census Bureau was a great success.

Today, to increase and improve access to statistics, the Census Bureau is providing mobile apps that deliver information.

Photo: A UNIVAC computer at the Census Bureau, ca. 1960.

Video: Remington-Rand Presents the Univac





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