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Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation

 

Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation

The Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC) (March 1946 – 1950) was founded by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, and was incorporated on December 22, 1947. After building the ENIAC at the University of Pennsylvania, Eckert and Mauchly formed EMCC to build new computer designs for commercial and military applications. The company was initially called the Electronic Control Company, changing its name to Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation when it was incorporated. In 1950 the company was sold to Remington Rand, which later merged with Sperry Corporation to become Sperry Rand, and survives today as Unisys.

Contents

  • Founding 1
  • UNIVAC 2
  • BINAC and fiscal difficulties 3
  • Accusations of communist infiltration 4
  • Sale to Remington Rand 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Founding

By the spring of 1946, Eckert and Mauchly had procured a U.S. Army contract for the University of Pennsylvania and were already designing the EDVAC — the successor machine to the ENIAC — at the university's Moore School of Electrical Engineering. However, new university policies that would have forced Eckert and Mauchly to sign over intellectual property rights for their inventions led to their resignation, which caused a lengthy delay in the EDVAC design efforts. After seeking to join IBM and John von Neumann's team at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, they decided to start their own company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

UNIVAC

Mauchly persuaded the United States Census Bureau to order an "EDVAC II" computer — a model that was soon renamed UNIVAC — receiving a contract in 1948 that called for having the machine ready for the 1950 census. Eckert hired a staff that included a number of the engineers from the Moore School, and the company launched an ambitious program to design and manufacture large-scale computing machines. A major achievement was the use of magnetic tape for high-speed storage. During development Mauchly continued to solicit new customers and started a software department. They developed applications, starting with the world's first compiler for the language Short Code.

BINAC and fiscal difficulties

Cash flow was poor and the UNIVAC would not be finished for quite some time, so EMCC decided to take on another project that would be done quickly. This was the BINAC, a small computer (compared to ENIAC) for the Northrop corporation. Original estimates for the development costs proved to be extremely unrealistic, and by the summer of 1948, EMCC had just about run out of money, but it was temporarily saved by Harry L. Straus, vice president of the American Totalisator Company, a Baltimore company that made electromechanical totalisators. Straus felt that EMCC's work, besides being promising in general terms, might have some application in the race track business, and invested $500,000 in the company. Straus became chairman of the EMCC board, and American Totalisator received 40 percent of the stock. When Straus was killed in an airplane crash in October 1949, American Totalisator's directors withdrew their support.

BINAC was eventually delivered in 1949, but Northrop complained that it never worked well for them. (It had worked fine in acceptance tests at EMCC, but Northrop, citing security concerns, refused to allow any EMCC employees onto their site to reassemble it after shipping. Instead, Northrop hired a newly graduated electrical engineer to assemble it. EMCC claimed that the fact that it worked at all after this was testimony to the quality of the design.) It was generally believed at EMCC that Northrop allowed BINAC to sit, disassembled, in their parking lot for a long time before any effort toward assembly was made...

Accusations of communist infiltration

EMCC also received contracts for one UNIVAC machine each for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. These contracts were eventually canceled after the company was accused of having hired engineers with "Communistic leanings" during the McCarthy era. The company lost its clearance for government work, and company president and chief salesman Mauchly was banned from the company property. He challenged the accusations, but it took two years before a hearing allowed him to work at his company again; by then the UNIVAC was seriously behind schedule. The programming to allow the UNIVAC I to be used in predicting the outcome of the 1952 Presidential election had to be done by Mauchly and University of Pennsylvania statistician Max Woodbury at Mauchly's home in Ambler, Pennsylvania.

UNIVAC on CBS TV, election night, 1952

Sale to Remington Rand

As had happened with BINAC, EMCC's estimates of delivery dates and costs proved to be optimistic, and the company was soon in financial difficulty again. In early 1950, the company was for sale; potential buyers included National Cash Register and Remington Rand. Remington Rand made the first offer, and purchased EMCC on February 15, 1950, whereupon it became the UNIVAC division of Remington Rand. The first UNIVAC was not delivered until March 1951, over a year after EMCC was acquired by Remington Rand, and too late to help much for the 1950 census. However, upon acceptance at the company premises, truck load after truck load of punched cards arrived to be recorded on tape (by what was called jokingly the card to pulp converters) for processing by UNIVAC. The Census Bureau used the prototype UNIVAC on EMCC premises for months. Mauchly resigned from Remington Rand in 1952; his 10-year contract with them ran until 1960, and prohibited him from working on other computer projects during that time. Remington Rand merged with Sperry Corporation in 1955, and in 1975, the division was renamed Sperry UNIVAC.[1] The company's corporate descendant today is Unisys.

There is a story about the acceptance by the Census Bureau that must not be lost to history. On the appointed morning officials from the Census Bureau arrived for a briefing about the acceptance test. The briefing was followed by a long lunch off site, at which Remington shavers were presented to all. While all that went on, the EMCC team ran the acceptance test and recorded the results on a magnetic tape, leaving that tape near the computer. After lunch, the acceptance team gathered to witness the test. The test tape was installed on a magnetic tape drive, and the operator sat at the supervisory control console. With all ready, the operator then hit the wrong button, erasing the test program tape. Disaster? No! He then got up, installed the program tape to run what was called the "New Old Faithful" program tape, and ran that program which exercised every function UNIVAC could perform. That went on for the expected time, after which the operator stopped the program, rose, removed the tape from the tape drive, went behind the tape drives (a row of machines about the size of file cabinets), and swapped the tape he had removed for the morning's acceptance test results tape. That tape was then installed on the printer and the expected results were printed to the delight of the acceptance team. The name of the operator has been omitted for obvious reasons.

References

  1. ^ Norberg, Arthur L. (2005-06-01). Computers and Commerce: A Study of Technology and Management at Eckert–Mauchly Computer Company, Engineering Research Associates, and Remington Rand, 1946-1957. The MIT Press.  

External links

  • John W. Mauchly and the Development of the ENIAC Computer
  • Arthur L. Norberg, Computers and Commerce: A Study of Technology and Management at Eckert-Mauchly Computer Company, Engineering Research Associates, and Remington Rand, 1946-1957 (MIT Press, 2005). ISBN 978-0-262-14090-4
  • Machine Launched a World of Change, by Kay Mauchly Antonelli, one of the first ENIAC programmers, and wife of J. W. Mauchly
  • Goff, Leslie (1999-01-02). "Genesis of the computer". Flashback 1950 (Computerworld). Retrieved 2007-05-31. 
  • Oral history interview with Isaac Levin Auerbach Oral history interview by Nancy B. Stern, 10 April 1978. Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota. Auerbach recounts his experiences at Electronic Control Company (later the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Company) during 1947-1949. He evaluates BINAC, UNIVAC, and the roles of the National Bureau of Standards, Northrop Aircraft, Raytheon, Remington Rand, and IBM.
  • Oral history interview with Earl Edgar Masterson, Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota. Masterson recounts his job interview with J. Presper Eckert and Fraser Welch and his work with the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation, especially his work with the UNIVAC I and his design of a functional high-speed printer
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