by Candace RichComment — Updated August 3, 2023

The Eckert and Mauchly Computer Co. of Philadelphia (which was soon purchased by Remington Rand) sells the first commercial computer, the UNIVAC 1, to the U.S. Census Bureau. UNIVAC stands for Universal Automatic Computer.

The memory called up data by transmitting sonic pulses through tubes of mercury. An additional 45 UNIVAC 1 machines would eventually be sold. The massive computer was 8 feet high, 7-1/2 feet wide and 14-1/2 feet long. It has lots and lots of tubes that dimmed lights all over Washington when it cranked out information

The UNIVAC was not the first computer ever built. A host of companies, including Eckert-Mauchly, Remington Rand, IBM, and others, all were developing computers for commercial applications at the same time.

Perhaps the most famous computer of the era was the ENIAC, a computer developed for the U.S. military during World War II. Other computers developed in the 1940s were mostly used by academia. But the UNIVAC I was the first computer to be widely used for commercial purposes – 46 machines were built, for about $1 million each.

UNIVAC I came to the public’s attention in 1952, when CBS used one to predict the outcome of the presidential election. The computer correctly predicted the Eisenhower victory, but CBS did not release that information until after the election because the race was thought to be close.

Rights to the UNIVAC name are currently held by Unisys.

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