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Information Technology (IT) Pioneers

Retirees and former employees of Unisys, Lockheed Martin, and their heritage companies

Blue Bell, Chapter 34

The Blue Bell, PA based operations of UNIVAC to UNISYS were the 'mother company' of the Twin Cities' commercial operations. In the early 60s, Sperry Rand established a profit center organization based on their business types. This separated the commercial and military management chains with the Twin Cities commercial operations reporting into Blue Bell and the military operations reporting into Rand headquarters in NYC. Thus, Blue Bell became the 'mother' of some of the departments/buildings in the Twin Cities.

   Included here are several items written by Blue Bell retiree members about their experience in the early days. Their web site also contained several photos and articles that were written around the time of the 50th anniversary of Univac I.  "If you need any further information please contact me." Al Rollin, Blue Bell Retirees. 
Unfortunately, the Blue Bell retirees club disbanded in 2016 without capturing an electronic copy of their shut off web site, we were able to capture their last few newsletters,  The President's message therefrom is also captured here.

A List of ENIAC firsts:

As noted by J. Presper Eckert, co-inventor of the ENIAC, Electronic Numeric Integrator and Computer, the first electronic computer, in an address to the Eckert Research International Corporation, in Japan on April 15, 1991.
1. The most important item in the ENIAC was the control of subroutines in programming, first proposed by Dr. John Mauchly Co-inventor of the ENIAC. With only a linear string of instructions, ENIAC would have required over one million vacuum tubes in the programming or sequence control system.
2. The general purpose register which would be used for many purposes and which could be read into or out from at electronic speeds. The banks of switches that controlled the programming at electronic speeds were the origins of Read Only Memory (ROM).
3. The concept of a rerouting number in the sequencing process based on the sign (+/-) of a number in the register. This gave processing power and flexibility. (The “IF-THEN” statement in programming.)
4. It had the concept of nesting and interloping subroutines to produce complex results with minimal programming switching equipment.
5. It was able to stop at every pulse time, every add time or at special points in a routine according to pre-set rules. This facilitated trouble shooting and software de-bugging.
6. It had automatic input from punch cards, providing a large inexpensive memory for some situations. Cards could be punched on a standard keypunch then sorted or collated on standard punch card equipment.
7. It had a similar automatic output on demand to punch cards that could be fed back into the computer after sorting and printing for hard copy.
8. Each unit had its own built in program control, thus it allowed operation of several sections at the same time, i.e. parallel processing.
9. It had input and output buffers that allowed input, output and computing processes simultaneously.
10. It was divided into 40 main panels and 7 power supply panels for servicing and manufacturing ease. The panels were made up of smaller units each containing 12 to 28 vacuum tubes. These small “plug-in” chassis’s could be removed or inserted with the special screw-in handles. Spares were kept for each chassis. A removed chassis could be tested and repaired off-line.
11. It was specifically designed with high tolerances or “worst case design” which allowed the circuits to operate through wide variations*.
12. ENIAC accomplished all these things at speeds in excess of past human experience.
Eckert felt that Mauchly’s concept of subroutines was his most important contribution. Eckert felt that his most important contribution was using a single memory system for a computer to store both data and instructions. This concept was erroneously attributed to Dr. Jon von Neumann who got the idea from Eckert who had recorded the concept over six months before von Neumann ever even saw or heard of ENIAC.
Speaking about future computers, Eckert said. “Who can tell whether in the next fifty years man will build a computer capable of self-reproduction and improving itself. But I can certainly say this; I hope the man who creates such a machine has the presence of mind to pull the plug out of the wall before he starts it running.”
Speaking about future computers, Mauchly said, “I think one of the greatest boons for mankind would be the ability to scan the human body for disease without intrusion into the body.” He also thought that the amount of information in the world is so vast that the human brain cannot keep track of it all, but computers could. Humans can use this computer memory to know what work in any field is being done around the world.
* It is this “worst case design” concept that convinced the IEEE to declare Mauchly “The Greatest Engineer of the 20th Century”.  Mauchly stated in an interview that “Pres Eckert was the greatest computer component engineer who ever lived.”

3. UNIVAC I, II, and III


UNIVAC shows how far we've come 06/06/2001  By ALAN GOLDSTEIN / The Dallas Morning News - Technology editor Alan Goldstein writes about the Internet and electronic commerce for The Dallas Morning News. E-mail him at
"Last year's euphoria about the possibilities of new technology has yielded to despair. Has the pendulum swung too far?
As far as computing has advanced, there must be more to come. Consider the state-of-the-art in computing a half-century ago. That's when the U.S. Census Bureau took delivery of the first computer designed for commercial use, the Universal Automatic Computer, or UNIVAC, with a formal dedication ceremony on June 14, 1951.
The introduction marked what's generally regarded as the beginning of the computer industry, because it was the first time a company put one of these mammoth machines up for sale, said George Gray, a programmer for the state of Tahoma and a hobbyist historian.
The UNIVAC was a commercial cousin to the ENIAC, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, a 30-ton marvel developed at the University of Pennsylvania during World War II and first demonstrated in February, 1946. The UNIVAC weighed a relatively svelte eight tons. Effectively a walk-in computer, its central processing unit was about the size of a one-car garage.
"On one side of it, there was a door and you could go in - when the electricity was off," Mr. Gray said. "That's how maintenance engineers would go inside."
Vacuum tubes created an enormous amount of heat, so the system was cooled with a high-capacity air-conditioning system that used chilled water and a blower. Most visually compelling to those who got to witness the great machine in action was its array of eight tape drives.
"Whenever a movie was showing you a computer in the old days, they'd show you tape drives," said Mr. Gray, who writes the online Unisys History Newsletter and co-wrote a history of computers that Unisys Corp. sends out as a reference work on the subject. Unisys is the corporate descendant of the creator of the UNIVAC.
"The tape was made from extremely thin metal foil. They hadn't gotten to the more familiar Mylar tapes. If you dropped one of them on your foot, you'd know it." For the time, its price tag was also shocking - more than $1 million.
Speedy Giant
And the UNIVAC was considered blazingly fast. The UNIVAC's arrival was too late for the compilation of the 1950 population census, but it was used for economic reports over the next several years. The 1950 census was counted the old-fashioned way, using tabulating machines and traditional punch-card technology, Mr. Gray said.

The UNIVAC design could scan through a reel of tape, find the correct records, perform some processes with them and then return the results to the tape - replacing the labor-intensive process of having people shuttle punched cards between machines.
"The advantage of the computer over the punch-card device was sheer speed. You can pass magnetic tape much more quickly than you can read a deck of cards," Mr. Gray said. Of course, by today's standards, the original UNIVAC's speed was downright laughable - about 2.25 megahertz. By way of comparison, a good handheld organizer today operates at more than 200 megahertz, while a typical new desktop personal computer runs at more than a gigahertz. With the added speed, the Census Bureau was able to gather more data and analyze it in far more sophisticated ways, Mr. Gray said.
The UNIVAC was showcased to the broader world through television and radio coverage of election night in 1952. The computer constructed a mathematical model of the election, then used early results from sample precincts to correctly predict that Dwight D. Eisenhower would win by a landslide.
"This was not about counting; it was predicting," Mr. Gray said.
Announcers on CBS praised the UNIVAC, but they also pointed out that while it had produced an accurate prediction, they had been afraid to use it. In the following years, the UNIVAC basked in the glow of favorable publicity, eventually becoming synonymous to many with a powerful computer.
Lower high-end costs
The ultra-powerful Unisys computers these days borrow most heavily from the standard PC architecture of the last two decades, operating with up to 32 Intel processors and running the Microsoft Windows operating system.
"It's a technical and engineering challenge," said David Houseman, vice president for advanced technology at Unisys, but it's bringing down the cost of high-end computing.
Fast computers are so common, they're far less visible.
"In the early days of electric power, the wealthy would proudly display a bare light bulb in the living room. Now, of course, they're recessed and hidden," Mr. Houseman said. "The same thing has happened to computers. They're in cars, watches, cell phones - everywhere."

3.2 Technical Publications

The bit-savers web site ( has over 32,000 documents. We've copied some of the UNIVAC I, II, and III applicable documents and linked them hereunder for technology researchers ease of access. Bit-savers also has a few photos, see the UNIVAC III by this Pub's list.

4. Other Design Efforts

In 1942, long before his work on ENIAC, Dr. John Mauchly was thinking about the use of electronic devices in calculating machines. In August he wrote an article entitled: “The use of High Speed Vacuum Tube Devices for Calculating”. This article clearly indicated that Mauchly was thinking ahead of the state of the art.
J. Presper Eckert demonstrated that he was also thinking ahead of the then state of the art by writing an article entitled: “Disclosure of a Magnetic Drum Calculator” in January of 1944. When Eckert published that article, the design for ENIAC was essentially frozen. He and Mauchly started serving dual roles at the University of Pennsylvania. They were supporting the building and testing of ENIAC during the day shift hours and designing the next machine during the evening shift hours. They actually began building the machine before the contract was in place for that machine. The machine that they began designing in January of 1944 was eventually given the name of EDVAC. The contract for this machine, which was issued in October of 1944, did not specify exactly what the machine was to do.
In the design of ENIAC, Eckert and Mauchly built a “hasty state of the art” answer to the critical needs of the Army Ordnance Department. (This quotation is from Mauchly’s description of ENIAC in his letter to the editor of DATAMATION Magazine in 1979) In a valiant attempt to complete ENIAC in time to support WWII military activities, they designed a machine that was not ideally suited for the role of the digital computer of the future. They knew what the undesirable characteristics of ENIAC were, but they were forced to use technology that was not too far ahead of the technology curve in order to produce a valuable tool for the Army quickly. They did an excellent job. The original model demonstrated in February of 1946 was a programmable, general purpose, digital, arithmetic computing machine. Some of the programming was implemented at electronic speed to keep up with speed of the arithmetic portions of the machine. The rest of the programming was in the form of switches and plug-programmable cables. In spite of their valiant efforts, ENIAC was too late to support the war effort. After the design for ENIAC was frozen, Eckert and Mauchly started planning improvements for the next machine to eliminate the less than desirable characteristics that they were forced to build into ENIAC in order to complete the project as quickly as possible. They started designing the machine known as EDVAC, the actual forerunner of the computer as we know it today.
In his article of January, 1944, Eckert described a calculator with a magnetic storage medium that contained both commands and data. He and Mauchly had to abandon that approach because it was too far ahead of the technology curve. Instead, they decided to store commands and data in a sonic mercury delay line memory. This type of memory was also ahead of the curve but Eckert had had enough experience with mercury delay memory that he was confident that he could make it work in a reasonable timeframe. The mercury delay line had a drawback, latency time. That is, the mean time to recover a stored word was half the delay time through the delay line. Even given this drawback the mercury delay line memory was a major step forward.
The number of vacuum tubes for ENIAC grew from approximately 5,000 to 18,000 as Eckert and Mauchly addressed the reality of making that machine a functional, general-purpose computing machine. The architecture they had selected for ENIAC did not allow them the luxury of building the most efficient machine from a hardware point of view. For the next machine, they decided to start with a different architecture. An architecture that would allow the machine to be smaller, more efficient and potentially more powerful. First they decided that there would be one central memory module. Both data and commands would be stored in that memory. In contrast to ENIAC, they decided that all arithmetic computation would occur in one central arithmetic logic unit of the machine. There would be a centralized control module that would time and sequence all other sections. What they defined was the computer system architecture for the stored program, digital computer as we know it today. This core architecture was known as “von Nuemann” architecture for reasons that will become apparent as you read on. It should be noted that the person who served as the liaison between the Army and the University was Herman H. Goldstine.
In August of 1944, Goldstine met Von Nuemann by chance. Dr. von Nuemann was a highly respected scientist who was connected with many state of the art projects, including the Manhattan Project, the project which developed the atom bomb. He was fascinated by Goldstine’s description of ENIAC. He obtained clearance to visit the University to see the machine. When he arrived in September of 1944, University officials asked Eckert and Mauchly to reveal all that they had accomplished ENIAC and all that they were planning with the design of EDVAC. While they were doing this, they noted that von Nuemann was changing the names of the modules and other minor aspects of their design without changing the logic of the machine. His motives for doing this are unknown. When von Nuemann was called away to Los Alamos to work the on Manhattan Project, he generated the well known First Draft of a Report on EDVAC. That report did not acknowledge any contributions from anyone at the University. It is possible that he considered that memo to be an internal communication and would not be distributed outside the project. Regardless of what von Nuemann intended, Goldstine distributed that report widely, in violation of the classified nature of the EDVAC project. Since the only signature on that document was that of von Nuemann, he received the credit for the design of the stored program, digital computer as we know it today.


5.1 From Joseph Chapline

1. It’s hard to describe what you don’t know. 
When I worked for Eckert, I wrote his scientific papers that he later delivered typically to the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE), later renamed the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). One such paper was on some aspect of memory systems. He told me one October that he was to give the paper the next March in New York. My habit was to write a draft reasonably promptly after he first mentioned the paper. In this instance I prepared a text and left it in his office. He passed me in the hallway at one point and said he would like to the talk over what I had written. Being procrastinators--both of us, we passed each other many times with good intentions of getting together. But that meeting didn't occur until Sunday night before his trip to New York with the delivery on Monday morning. So we met at the lab about 8 PM Sunday night. He picked this one part he didn't like and explained it to me again. I went and rewrote and handed him the new copy. He was unsatisfied, so we repeated the process several more times. It got to be 4 AM and Pres felt he should start for New York. As he left he thanked for all my patience and effort. And then asked, "You know why we had so much trouble, don't you?" I said no, why? "Well," said Eckert, "I didn't know how the damned thing worked, but I was hoping I could get you to write something that would sound as if I did."
2. It pays to be nice
On one occasion, I was waiting for a time when Pres and I could go over some copy. Each time I passed his secretary's desk, she said, "No, Mr. Eckert is busy; try some other time." One day I hit it. "Mr. Eckert can see you now." It was late one afternoon. I walked into his office and immediately felt this tension. Pres was most upset about something. I told him that I would rather talk with him some other time. He immediately wanted to know why. I said. "You are upset about something and I would rather talk with you when you are calmer." “How can you tell?" he asked. I said that I could feel the tension on walking into his office. "Well, as a matter of fact I am." He closed his office door and went on. "I don't know what to do with Lou Wilson. I tell him to do something and he doesn't do it; I tell him not to do something else and he goes ahead and does it anyway. Do you think it would help if I would be nice to him?" I concurred that being nice to him would help and immediately the crisis was over and we had a most pleasant and productive meeting.
3. How the best = the worst
There were many characters working at the Eckert-Mauchly plant. However, the group was still small so that we all knew each other and how we all fitted into the general scheme. Eckert was the top dog: he was the driving force. There were two particular members of the engineering staff, one of them was Frazer Welsh and the other shall remain nameless. The scuttlebutt was that there were the only two people who could talk back to Eckert. One was Welsh because who knew enough to get away with it. The other person was because he was too stupid to know any better.
4. Wonder if it works the same way on a hot chick
One of the many scientific experiments carried on in the course of developing the many components for the UNIVAC was to find some tensioning means for applying tension to loops of tape on the high-speed tape reading devices that fed information into and took information out of the UNIVAC. Tensioning devices usually suggest springs. But springs obey what is called Hook's Law: the farther one stretches a spring, the greater the restoring force. What was wanted was a constant restoring force so as not to load down the drives that controlled the tape. One day someone brought in some elastic that was used in making women's corsets. It was tested and found to be almost constant in its restoring force no matter how far it was stretched. So a great spool of corset elastic was bought and a band of it was duly installed in the test unit, called the UNISERVO. One Friday afternoon, the unit was hooked up with corset elastic as restoring forces in the unit. Preliminary tests were exciting they were so good. So the machine was put on weekend-test. The machine was set to work over and over again all weekend long. So the engineers went home hoping that they had found the answer. A watchman was on duty at the lab 24 hours a day. He was to watch such experiments and was instructed how to turn them off if trouble developed. When the engineers arrived back at work on Monday morning, the unit had been shut down and there in the bottom of the UNISERVO cabinet was a pool of corset rubber. The Friday before, when the experiment was set up, was a cloudy day. On Saturday, the sun came out and shone through the lab windows on the elastic. The effect of the sun was to take all of the elasticity out of the rubber and render the corset elastic useless.
5. Wonder what the idea was
One of the other tasks I had was to help in preparing a steady flow of patent disclosures to the company patent office. Sometimes this effort was to scan the engineers' notebooks for ideas; other times I had to sit in on disclosure sessions in which several engineers would toss around various ideas on how to do something. Perhaps the most amazing of these sessions was one in which only Eckert and Welsh were to probe various possibilities. These two men were on a par with each other for inventive ability. They each had extremely broad scientific backgrounds and were seated at each end of a table. I sat in the middle, notebook in hand, to take down any pearls of inventive wisdom that might come forth. At one point, Eckert said, "I've got an idea!" To which Welsh answered immediately, "It won't work." To which Eckert responded immediately, "Oh, that's right." I asked them to run that through again and it was quite evident that both men had hit on the same idea at the same moment and each concluded its non-feasibility simultaneously. Such an event gives rise to my theory of intellectual ether that pervades all minds, some more completely than others. Invention often comes forth in two or more minds simultaneously because the time has come for that idea to emerge.
6. Who Cares?
Eckert and I lived along the same bus route. After John, Pres, and I had finished our coffee and scrambled eggs at Linton's, usually about 2 AM, we would debate about when to leave knowing that the bus at the end of the elevated railroad left on a 45-minute schedule. If there wasn't time to catch the 1:45 bus we would continue talking until time to leave for the 2:30 bus. And so on. One night we missed the elevated train that would have gotten to 69th street in time, so we had to stand for 45 minutes or more waiting for the next E-bus. Meanwhile, it was snowing rather briskly. Eckert and I waited for the next bus. We talked about a lot of trivia being both cold and tired. Suddenly Pres came through with the sage remark, "Isn't it fortunate that snow doesn't burn?" I picked him up on it and asked why. "Well, think what a fire hazard it would be if it did."
7. Eckert had the memory of an elephant.
I left the Eckert-Mauchly organization to go to work for Philco. I had been there some three or more years. Eckert and I had had a 20-year discussion [most amicable] about the possibilities of building an electronic organ. He was certain something could be done. I was a skeptic. So any time we had a moment together, this subject would come up. One time I was riding back to Philadelphia on one of the familiar "rattlers", the train that runs from New York to Philadelphia and back again. Unfortunately, I sat in one car and Pres sat in the other car, to my regret, if I had known he was on board, I would have enjoyed the two-hour talk with him about all kinds of things on the way. However, it was not until we emerged from adjacent cars at the common exit platforms that we realized we were on the same train. Without any formalities whatsoever, Eckert's first words to me were, "And another way you could make the 32' stop in the pedal would be to…" He had picked up exactly the words of the next sentence in a discussion we last had five years before.
8. In the same connection,
Pres once brought some $10,000 worth of fine electronic equipment to my home where I had built a tracker action pipe organ. [I was intent on the real thing!] He was there with his microscopes and other equipment for several days. One day, my wife and I went out for lunch. When we returned, Pres told me that he found by means of his microscope that it made a difference how one struck the key. If you struck quickly and decisively, it made the pipe speak with a dominant transient; if you struck the key softly, it made the pipe speak with a softer transient. Here was proof-positive that tracker action properly built and adjusted made it possible for the organist to produce highly expressive effects merely by the way he struck the keys of the mechanical [tracker] action. I did not tell him of this fact although I was a strong advocate of this type of action because of its sensitivity to the organist touch.
9. Wonder if he ever showed it to Blumenthal
Frazer Welsh was an independently wealthy graduate of Harvard with master's degree in aeronautical engineering. He was a brilliant mind. He lived with my wife and me for 14 years as a star boarder. He was single because he believed that the only women who were interested in him were after his money, not him. Frazer and I drove to work each day and back home again. During these trips we talked over many technical problems related to computers and to organ building. Of all the things Welsh was best at, it was in the area of what is now called logical design. His mind was so keen that he could see through problem with uncanny perception. One time he wanted Blumenthal to design the logical [block diagram] for the card-to-tape converter. After several weeks. Blumenthal brought in his design. Welsh never looked at it. He merely asked, "How many flip-flops does it have?" Blumenthal stammered for a moment and then counted and said, "Eight." Welsh, without batting an eyelash said, "It can be done with only three!" Blumenthal went back and returned a week later with a new diagram. Welsh asked, "How many flip-flops?" Blumenthal admitted to five. Welsh said it can be done with only three.
That afternoon Welsh and I left in Welsh's private plane for the weekend in New Hampshire where his parents had a house on Lake Sunapee. The next morning, sitting on the front porch looking out on Lake Sunapee, Frazer took out an old #10 envelope and began drawing a few lines. A few moments later, he had drawn the three flip-flops with the various lines of input and output and said to me, "I've got the solution for Blumenthal," and put the envelope in his pocket to give to Blumenthal on Monday. He could boil down a design to its absolute basic essentials! Nothing must be wasted; nothing must be superfulous.
10. Universal it ain’t
After the UNIVAC had been completed and was up and working, the Eckert-Mauchly organization was interested in what IBM had produced in its first electronic computer. So we had an IBM salesman come to our office, they were quite willing to do this, so that we could ask them about their product. Welsh was present but said little. One of the features of the UNIVAC was the many tape units, the UNISERVOs that could take data from the central computer and record it on tape or feed back information from the tape unit to the computer. One of the great accomplishments of Frazer Welsh was to make the UNISERVOs completely universal, that is, one could write on one tape unit and then read back the same tape on another tape unit without error. Finally, Frazer spoke up and asked the IBM salesman if he could take the tape from unit one and read it back on unit two. The IBM thought a moment and said, "No." Frazer, in utter disdain, said, "You don't have tape units; all you've got is auxiliary memory!" and walked out.
11. Saved by a clever woman
In 1942, I was given a fellowship paying $1,000/yr at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering as a Research Associate. I was to assist graduate students in developing problems and helping them solve them on the Bush Differential Analyzer then in the basement of the Moore School. However, within one week of my employment in May, 1942, the Army Ordnance from Aberdeen Proving Ground made a contract with Moore School for "the duration" to use the Moore School Analyzer for the computation of firing tables for the Army Ordnance. I became the nurse that cared for the proper operation of the big mechanical computer. Shortly after the contract was signed, the Ordnance Department began to hire a large group of young women, trained in mathematical calculation, to become computers; these young ladies were skilled at numerically integrating the ballistics equation to make firing table indicating the range, height of trajectory, and time of flight for the various guns in the Ordnance artillery. The man selected to be intermediary between the Moore School and the Aberdeen Proving Ground was Herman Goldstine. Herman was a graduate in mathematics from Chicago University and a man of learning and skill. One day in July he stood on the steps leading up from basement room that held the differential analyzer and, looking down over the operating scene, remarked, "You know, when the Ordnance Department got the differential analyzer back in 1935 they wondered what they would do with all those trajectories; now it seems terribly slow. I wish there were a way to speed it up." I suggested that he meet John Mauchly. I was living at the Mauchly house in West Philadelphia and had known John from his days at Ursinus. In fact, John got me the job as research associate at the Moore School. So, I took Goldstine up to John's office and introduced them. The result of this conference was the memo John dictated to Dorothy Shisler, then Mauchly's secretary. The draft was given to Brainerd who promptly lost it. But this loss was not known until several months later when the forces of Aberdeen, sparked by Goldstine's promises to them, began to ask, "Where is the report?" Miracles of miracles, Dorothy, who was a college friend of mine at Ursinus, resurrected her three-month-old shorthand notes and reconstituted the memo. One could conjecture whether Brainerd did this from simple forgetfulness or was he was adamant about getting the Moore School into such frivolities. After all, Moore School was a teaching institution, not a research shop!
12. That’s a joke professor
John Mauchly was always ready for a pun or a joke. Punning was his favorite trick. Brainerd, whose full name was John Grist Brainerd, was known throughout the Moore School by his middle name, Grist. One day John walked into the faculty men's room to find Grist sitting on the hopper. Mauchly, not missing the chance for a pun, remarked, "Ah, grist for the mill." The remark did not improve Mauchly's standing with Grist Brainerd who was a most proper man.
13.Whose war is this anyway?
During the war, the Navy used the differential facilities at MIT as the Army was using Moore School. It turned out that there was an employee at MIT who had the same relation to Navy that I had to the Army. When I had completed a year of employment, I was granted a two-week vacation with pay. I had never been to Boston so I thought it would be grand place to visit. [Incidentally, John's sister lived in Boston and so I took little Sidney Mauchly, who was about six years old, with me on the train to Boston where I delivered her to her aunt and then met her two weeks later and brought her back to Philadelphia.] I thought a great idea would be for me to visit the Navy installation at MIT. But NO, Brainerd was convinced that I couldn't touch the Navy project: it was all classified. [So was Philadelphia!] So Brainerd gave me this nice letter to the head of engineering at MIT asking that he show me the unclassified labs at MIT. I took the direct route and when I reached Boston I called up Perry Crawford-my counterpart and he immediately invited me over. I spent two days seeing all the computing equipment and discussing many problems we had in common. When I got home I related with great glee my wonderful experiences at MIT to Brainerd. I went back to my lab in the basement only to be called a few moments later to report to Brainerd's office. When I arrived, he had assembled Dean Pender, Goldstine, Weygandt, and several others. I walked into the inquisition. Had I revealed the coefficients in the density and temperature functions to Crawford. To all of which, I answered "Yes." Consternation stood on their faces. I feared nothing and spoke my piece. "Were we not fighting the same war? Was I speaking with the enemy?" I failed to understand their concern. I won and walked slowly back to my analyzer room without further discussion. That was Brainerd.
14. A win-win solution
I knew Mary Mauchly as a big sister. She was ten years older than I and I welcomed her counsel and enthusiasm for life. She taught me to like Scotch whisky and Beethoven. I also got to know Rachel Mauchly, John's mother, who lived with John and Mary. When John got his appointment to Penn, he got it after he had to sign a lease for the house in Trappe. He was trapped in that position of either having a job in Philadelphia and a house in Trappe or no job in Philadelphia and no place to live in the Collegeville area. John lived in a rooming house during that winter, and returned to Trappe-which is just up the road from Collegeville-on Wednesday nights and over each weekend. During the fall of 1941, there was a tenant farmer who lived in another house on the rather large property. But he moved away in November and Mary, who didn't want to live on the farm alone, came to the Physics Department one day and asked me if I knew any student who would like to live on the farm with her and the two kids and grandma. I asked what the rent was and she said nothing. So I said, "Here's your man." And I moved out to the farm in December and stayed there until I graduated the following May, 1942. For me it was a great fortune. John came home one Wednesday in March and asked what I expected to do when I graduated. "Go in the army, what else?" He asked if I had calculus, which I had, and what were my grades, "I got 96 in the first semester." So he took me to Moore School within the next few weeks and that is how I got to the Moore School. It is likely that it saved my life for I was deferred from military service throughout the war. I had learned to know Mauchly during my sophomore and junior years when I used to frequent his nightly forays into the basement physics lab in the Ursinus science building.
15. John quotes Matthew
John and I spent many hours in his last years on the phone. He used to call me at 10 or 11 at night and we would talk until 2 and 3 in the morning. He was so sad. He felt that they had taken away his whole life when the decision from the Minneapolis trial came out. "They said I didn't invent the ENIAC!" One night I asked what was wrong and he said he was suffering from the Matthew principle. I asked him what that was and he chided me, an organist and choirmaster, for not knowing my Bible. Then he explained that he was a victim of the principle stated in St. Matthew that "to him that hath much, even more shall be given, and to him that hath little, even that which he hath shall be taken away." I could write a book just on this theme about John Mauchly. Everything he did, he was frustrated by circumstances. He graduated Johns Hopkins with a single degree [PhD in spectroscopy]. He didn't bother to go around and collect the two earlier degrees. Spectroscopy is a field of science that, in 1930, few places had the money to spend on such work. So he took the first job offered to him on graduation at Ursinus College; he was the sole teacher of physics. His laboratory allotment was $1000 per year. He couldn't even graduate one student in physics because the college needed two teachers in the field to establish degrees in the subject. He eventually conspired with a student to end up with not enough points in any other field, so that he had to be graduated in physics So John Mauchly turned to statistics as a field because it needed little lab equipment and so he began to study the weather. That's when he began to think about faster ways to compute. He used NYA student at 25 cents/hour to compute on those old slow calculating machines. He even spent $700. Of his whole allotment of $1000 for that year on a better computing machine, to the horror of his colleagues on the faculty who could not condone such a costly item in a single year. In 1941, he got his appointment to Moore School, a big University with lots of money, only to find out that the very man he replaced, Irvin Travis, had just finished a research program that proved computing could never be done electronically, only mechanically! [He was the chief advocate for building the differential analyzer.] So every time John mentioned doing it electronically, at lunch or over dinner, he was laughed down. His position with the ENIAC was always dubious in his own mind. After the ENIAC was finished, he had trouble with the Un-American Activities committee. He was asked the question, "Would you knowingly hire an engineer who is a communist?" His answer was " It depends on how good an engineer he is." Thus, he was on the black list for ten years. After that, he tried twice to develop a company and each time failed. And finally, his real accomplishment was taken away by a court decision. He was never rewarded with any appreciable money.
16. A most unlikely consequence
John Mauchly occasionally drank alcohol. He was not a sot in any sense, but he always amazed his colleagues by how much he could consume without ever showing it. The reason was his good Presbyterian Mother. He asked her permission to drink, when of reasonable age. She said, "No." He wanted to know why not. She said it made you act foolishly and you lost your sense of right and wrong. "Well," says John, "if I can drink and not have you notice it unless you come and smell my breath, would that be all right?" And his Mother acceded. So John launched upon a slow and scientific progression from a little bit to a little more and then still more always maintaining such decorum that his mother couldn't tell if he had been drinking. Thus, to all the rest of us, John could drink unknown quantities of liquor without ever showing any noticeable effects.
17. Fire, fire, a toilet on fire!!
The new Electronic Control Company was ensconced in the second, third, and fourth floor of 1215 Walnut Street. It had been an old home with elegant woodwork and grand staircases. The first floor had become a men's clothing store. The upper floors were converted into laboratories for the budding computer company. At the top of the first flight of stairs there was a landing. To the front were the executive offices, the rear was the drafting room. There at the landing was also a bathroom. One morning, John came running out of the bathroom asking for a fire extinguisher. Someone ran for one, but every one else wanted to know "For what?" John said, in his haste, "The toilet seat is on fire!" Finally, the extinguisher put out the fire, but still the questions, why? What? Then John explained. He had gotten a classified document from the government. He had read it and then he was required to destroy it. He thought of the toilet as a good place to burn the papers.. However, after he lit the papers, he found that the toilet seat was made of some highly flammable plastic. Thus, the toilet seat was on fire. He became known locally as “Hot-Ass Mauchly”.

5.2 From Jean Bartik & Art Gehring

Large versus Small Logic
Bob Shaw drew all the Logical Block Diagrams for the UNIVAC. Bob was an albino and had very poor vision. He had to hold his face very close to the paper to see what he was drawing. His nose almost touched the paper. Plus, he had a very hard time reading any fine print. Thus, he drew the Logical Block Diagrams on 30” X 40” paper. Bob was brilliant and a wonderful person. He was very articulate, wrote well, was a very good and giving teacher and very witty. He loved to use unusual logic to arrive at a conclusion, just for fun. Art and I were given the job of checking the UNIVAC logic and to put in check circuits. We had questions for Frazier Welsh about the I/O logic. We tried to show him what bothered us on the Logic Diagram that Bob had drawn. Frazier would never look at it because he said it was too complex. One day, he came to us with his drawing on an 8 1/2” X 11” page and said, “Look how simple it is.” He had drawn exactly the same thing that Bob had drawn except on a smaller piece of paper. By the way, Bob drew all the Logical Block Diagrams for UNIVAC I in about 6 weeks time and Art and I found no major logical error in them.
Electrostatic UNIVAC
Art and I were programmers, and Pres, probably thinking hardware was more important than software, borrowed us to work in the engineering group to do the logical design of a backup machine for the Mercury Delay Line Memory UNIVAC. Pres was worried that the Mercury Delay Line Memory might not work so he wanted a backup system designed using Electrostatic Memory. It would functionally be an exact copy of UNIVAC I except it would be micro-coded and use electrostatic memory. He didn’t want anyone to know that he was concerned about the Mercury Delay Line Memory, so ours was a secret project. We were to talk to nobody about the project except to Pres. He taught us how to microcode and to do logical design. He came in about twice a day to answer questions and to check on our progress. One time, he gave us an engineering article to read and we couldn’t understand it. We struggled over it and Pres never came in all day. One never interrupted Pres to ask him a question. He chose to talk to you. You did not choose to talk to him. On the other hand, when you talked to him, you had his undivided attention. No one ever interrupted.
That night Art and I with my husband Bill and his girl friend Kitty were going out to dinner and to the opera. Bill is an electrical engineer and he was coming by the office to pick us up to go downtown to meet Kitty. Art was so frustrated that he said, “I’m going to ask Bill what this stuff means.” I reminded him that Pres told us to never discuss this project with anyone. Art pointed out that the article was merely about engineering concepts and had no particular relevance to our Project. At the end of the day, when Bill arrived, Art asked him to explain something that was in the article. As Bill bent over to read one particular paragraph that was giving us trouble, Pres walked into the room. He went into orbit. He told us that we were not to discuss this project with husbands, relatives, girlfriends or anyone else. Art was trying to get a word in edgewise but never succeeded.

After bawling us out, he turned to Bill and began to ask questions about the project he was working on for a different company. He had the job of shielding electrically the centrifuge at the Johnsville Naval Air station. It was designed to swing a human being around on the end of the arm to study the effects of Gs of gravity on the human body. The electrical signals in the human body are so small, the building needed to be completely shielded from outside noise so as not to distort the human electrical signals. Some astronauts came up and were given a ride. Pres was interested in the project so he began talking to Bill about it. Time passed and Pres talked on. Art and I got up, put on our coats and walked out the door. Pres and Bill followed, talking away. We were on the 7th floor, so we went to the elevator, it came and we got on and so did Pres, talking away. We came to the ground floor and walked out of the building into the streets, and so did Pres. It was Broad Street at rush hour. Cars were whizzing by. Pres talked on. Finally, he looked up, saw where he was and said, “I guess you folks want to leave.” Then, he turned and said, “Wonder what's for Dinner Tonight “?

5.3 From Jerry Smoliar

Office Collections
When John Mauchly was marrying Kay McNulty, Ben Stad bought an appropriate card and took up a collection for a gift. He then went around to all of us for our signatures and our contributions. The unusual part of this story is that he included John. Ben didn't say for whom he was collecting and John never asked, he just made a contribution.
A Meeting
When memory was scarce Bob Shaw wrote a paper hording the memory addresses them as if they were data. That is, you could have a table in which one field was a group of sequential memory locations and another field was the contents of these locations. Because of his handicaps he asked me to deliver that paper at the ACM meeting in Toronto in 1952. I couldn't refuse but I was terrified at the thought of the questions I might be asked. Actually what I said didn't matter because that was the date when Grace Hopper's disclosure of what she called "Automatic Programming," that is compilers, was made.

5.4 From Lou Wilson

In the summer of 1941, the "Lend-Lease" program was trying to help Great Britain and France survive and, as a result, there was a shortage of trained engineers in the US. A program was launched by US called "United States Engineering Defense Training Summer Program 1941." Under this umbrella, the University of Pennsylvania offered "Engineering Defense Training," under a program called "Electrical Engineering for Defense Industries" an intensive ten-week course for College Graduates who have majored in Mathematics or Physics. This course was offered TUITION FREE by the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at University of Pennsylvania. I have a copy of the announcement of this course. Enrollees in this course included Louis Wilson, Albert A. Auerbach, and John W. Mauchly. [Arthur Burks was also in the course.] The laboratory instructors were C. Bradford Sheppard and J. Presper Eckert. Auerbach and Wilson worked together as partners in the laboratory and have remained friends ever since. Eckert, Mauchly and, I believe Sheppard, stayed at the Moore School of U of P. I returned to Temple U on a fellowship to complete my MA and then on a fellowship to MIT. Auerbach went to work for Dupont and then into the Army.

5.5 From Paul Chinitz

Stevenson wasn’t the only loser
I remember the dates of this debacle very well. Lloyd Stowe and I were preparing a demonstration program for a UNIVAC prospect, I believe it was the Air Material Command. As an input to our demonstration program, we had a deck of 80 column punch cards – the IBM style punch cards consisted of 80 columns arranged in 12 rows. These cards are now so rare that they qualify as an archeological find. The UNIVAC did not accept punched cards, so the data on these cards had to be transcribed to magnetic tape. For this purpose an 80 column card-to-tape converter was designed and made available to us. It was part of the Census Bureau’s UNIVAC installation which was still located at 3747 Ridge Avenue. Contrary to the IBM method of reading the card, which was all 80 columns were read at the same time but each of the 12 rows were read serially, it was more feasible for UNIVAC, which processed data character by character serially, to read the cards edge-wise. That is, all 12 rows of each column were read at the same time but successive columns were read serially. We converted the data to tape and prepared to test our demonstration programs. We quickly found our programs were going crazy and soon found that the input data was the cause. Occasionally the card feed mechanism in the converter slipped and shifted the data being read. Lloyd and I decided to correct the by reading it into the computer and then examining every cards-worth of data for shifting and if shifted, to correct it. This was a laborious process, calling each word [10 card columns made one UNIVAC word in the conversion process] from the computer memory into the register lights on the operator’s console, then checking it against a printed listing of the card data provided to us by the prospective customer, then writing the corrected word back into the memory, replacing the bad word. We could only have time on the UNIVAC during the late night shift and only when no higher priority job needed the system.

We were told that we could use the UNIVAC, S/N 002 at the Air Force Controller’s Office in the Pentagon. This would be during the early evening shifts and since Lloyd had learned to operate the console, all we had to do was to show up at the Pentagon. We decided to make it a week-end treat and take our wives with us: spend the daytime seeing the Washington D.C. sites and then a few hours in the early evening correcting the data tapes in a quiet computer room. This was over the 4th of July week-end so we took one night off to see the fireworks on the lawn of the Washington Monument – they were spectacular! However, our few hours a night turned into many very late hours, and two very irate wives left to fend for themselves. We finally finished recording the corrected data on the tape and protected it against accidental erasure by installing the “no-write” rings onto the reels.

We were now able debug our programs and prepare for the demonstration which was scheduled for some months later. The data and program tapes all with the “no-write” protection rings installed and labels with the contents were stored in a tape rack in the Census Bureau’s computer room. Come the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, 1952, Election Day, and CBS was televising the election returns and the period predictions of the outcome by the UNIVAC at Ridge Avenue. It must have been a hectic night in the computer room, with the mathematicians and programmers, the computer operators and the television camera crews crowded into that small space left unfilled by the big computer. As you may remember, the first prediction to come out of the UNIVAC was for an Eisenhower landslide. This was so contrary to what the political analysts were expecting that programming or computer errors were suspected at first, and then it was decided to delete some of the very early exit poll data as probably biasing the prediction. There apparently was a mad scramble to quickly find some magnetic tape reels to record the new data. The programming staff manager, Dr. Herb Mitchell, pulled our tape reels out of the rack, removed the “no-write” rings, spun the reels through the large horseshoe magnet on the desk and erased our hard- won data forever. Later, we managed to convert the data cards again on the modified tap-to-card converter successfully.

A note of explanation, the early UNISERVO wrote new data over any previous data on the tape without pre-erasing. This was O.K. if the same UNISERVO were used for both recordings. If the tape was to be re-written by different UNISERVO, the slight variation in the position of the read-write heads could leave portions of the old recorded data on the tape. Later, the UNISERVO had a separate erase head in front of the write head that spanned the whole width of the tape. Prior to that we had to pre-erase any tap recorded on a different UNISERVO, so a large magnet was set up in the computer room for this purpose.
September, 2006

6. UNIVAC Magnetic Tape Plating Facility

Douglas C. Wendell , Jr. has provided us with an interesting 'career summary' document which began in 1947 and ended in 1991 with his retirement. 

In this Chapter

Click/tap to scroll down:
A List of ENIAC firsts
UNIVAC Computer Information:

  1. UNIVAC Shows How Far We've Come
  2. UNIVAC I, II, III Technical Publications 
Other Design Efforts
Anecdotes by authors:
  1. Bartik
  2. Chapline
  3. Chinitz
  4. Smoliar
  5. Wilson

 UNIVAC Magnetic Tape Facility Development

Chapter 34 edited 7/10/2024.