October 7, 2011 7:33 AM   Subscribe

To meet this need for high speed data processing, the scientists and technicians of the Eckert-Mauchly division of Remington Rand have created a miracle of electronic development: UNIVAC!

You may have read about UNIVAC in Popular Science magazine or seen their TV commercial.

Specs? 25 feet by 50 feet in length. 5,600 tubes. 18,000 crystal diodes. 2.25 MHz bit rate. 12 KB of internal storage. And an industry first: 1.4 MB magnetic tape units.

To protect your $200,000 investment, you'll want a copy of the maintenance manual (19 MB PDF). Maybe even the manuscript notes of the engineer who installed and maintained the machine for its first customer: the U.S. Census Bureau.

ENIAC owners are deciding whether to upgrade.
posted by Trurl (8 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

Yes, but does it come with funny cat pictures?
posted by Skeptic at 8:06 AM on October 7, 2011

I have actually held the serial plate from Univac in my hand. The CIO of the Census Bureau was using it as a paperweight on his desk when I was upgrading his PC to Windows 2000.

Just a big brass plate that said UNIVAC 0001 or something like that.
posted by empath at 8:18 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Needs an upgrade to Multivac.
posted by localroger at 8:35 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ironic post, given that there's another FPP on Grace Hopper right now, since she wrote the manual for the Mark I. Unless subby's feeding off that buzz, which is totes kew.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:04 AM on October 7, 2011

Ah, the first thing I thought of when I saw this post was the scans of the manuscript notes from Ptak Science Books blog. I think you killed his blog with traffic, it says "many more images below" but I can only get 2 images to load. There were dozens of pages.

Ptak Science Books blog is the most consistently interesting blog I know of. His UNIVAC and ENIAC holdings are extensive (and for sale). You can now own historic items like:

Original Blueprints for the UNIVAC Supervisory Control Panel

Preliminary Description of the UNIVAC for Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation Personnel Only

Ptak also has extensive holdings on ENIAC. Search his blog for UNIVAC or ENIAC and you will find many amazing historical documents.

I took some of my early CompSci classes from a former UNIVAC engineer. I remember sometime around 1977 I took his Intro to Microcomputers class, on the first day he described how as a hobby, he still maintained the last operational UNIVAC in the world, and how it was still running some company's internal accounting software on a daily basis. Of course he was just baiting some weisenheimer (me) to ask why they didn't just buy an IMSAI or an Apple ][ and migrate the software. Any modern micro would easily outpower the UNIVAC. And his answer why? Because the UNIVAC was already paid for and it still works. Ah, progress.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:25 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Needs an upgrade to Multivac.

posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:18 AM on October 7, 2011

Mercury delay line memory, anyone?
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:00 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow, mercury delay line memory was just as crazy as it sounds (and looks).
Wikipedia: Delay line memory was a form of computer memory used on some of the earliest digital computers. Like many modern forms of electronic computer memory, delay line memory was a refreshable memory, but as opposed to modern random-access memory, delay line memory was serial-access. In the earliest forms of delay line memory, information introduced to the memory in the form of electric pulses was transduced into mechanical waves that propagated relatively slowly through a medium, such as a cylinder filled with a liquid like mercury, a magnetostrictive coil, or a piezoelectric crystal. The propagation medium could support the propagation of hundreds or thousands of pulses at any one time. Upon reaching the other end of the propagation medium, the waves were re-transduced into electric pulses, amplified, shaped, and reintroduced to the propagation medium at the beginning, thus refreshing the memory. Accessing a desired part of the propagation medium's memory contents required waiting for the pulses of interest to reach the end of the medium, a wait typically on the order of microseconds. Use of a delay line for a computer memory was invented by J. Presper Eckert in the mid-1940s for use in computers such as the EDVAC and the UNIVAC I.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:15 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

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