IT’s an anniversary marking the delivery of the world’s first commercial computer – Univac 1 – to the US Census Bureau 70 years ago yesterday.

Engineers J Presper Eckert (left) and John Mauchly delivered the machine to the bureau, and it became operational three months later, by which time dozens more had been sold to other government departments and private companies.

Eckert and Mauchly had earlier developed Eniac (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator), the first general-purpose electronic digital computer, which was first used in a calculation for Los Alamos Laboratory in December 1945.

They set up their own firm, Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, but struggled to make it work and the company was taken over by Remington Rand, which is why Univac 1 bears its logo.

Univac is barely recognisable as a modern computer though. It was the size of a big cupboard, weighed in at 13 tons and had a price tag of more than £907,918.

Using 5000 vacuum tubes, it was able to perform around 1000 calculations per second, and achieved national fame on November 4, 1952, when it predicted Dwight D Eisenhower’s unexpected landslide victory in the presidential election after only a small percentage of the votes were returned.


QUITE simply to monitor the baby boom – the substantial rise in population that occurred in America in the early 1950s. But its real significance became apparent later, when Univac was acquired by the home appliance manufacturer General Electric to manage its payroll and warehouse inventories – the first time a computer was used for data processing instead of just equations and complex calculations. All data were stored and read by a metal tape unit without any manual input, spawning the term “automatic”.

The New York Times dubbed it “the 6’4” mathematical genius” that was capable of recording and classifying a population by gender, marital status, education, residence and other information in one-sixth of a second.


OH yes. Univac soon became the byword for computer in much the same way as Hoover equals vacuum cleaner.

In some ways this was the first time that a computer anticipated the evolution that came to be known as data integration – the complex process of assimilating, mapping, moving and transforming data, which is necessary to get it processed and working.

Digitisation has led to an exponential growth in the amount of data that companies must know how to manage effectively and quickly. From huge computers we have moved on to software that can manage data intuitively, dynamically and securely.

European multinational Primeur specialises in data integration, and has supplied the tools to international companies for more than 30 years. CEO Stefano Musso said: “In 70 years, technology has made enormous progress.

“Univac 1 was certainly the forerunner of this movement, which today is fundamental for managing the operations of large companies in the public and private sectors.”

Eckert and Mauchly are both long gone, but could they ever have realised the sheer importance of their early invention?