I was looking through an old bookcase over the weekend trying to find more space. This bookcase had a bunch of old computer-related books, including programming tomes about languages that had gone extinct. I figured I could find a few feet worth of books that weren’t worth keeping. A five-minute task. Except as always happens, I started actually looking through some of the items. It was amongst some loose papers that I found an EDP Industry Report from August 1969 (EDP = Electronic Data Processing).
International Data Corp (IDC) published the EDP Industry Report monthly starting in March 1964 until, I think, the late 1980s. It was sometimes called the “Gray Sheet” because it was printed on gray paper, probably to prevent or reduce the value of photocopying it on the office equipment that was available then.
The EDP Industry Report contained a monthly computer census. The text describing the table in this report was as follows:
The number of electronic computers installed or on order at any one time has been increasing rapidly during the past several years. New models come on the computer market, familiar machines go out of production and subsequently are sold on the used machine market or retired from active use and dismantled. Some computers have been received with open arms by users; others have been given the cold shoulder.
To aid our readers in keeping up with this rapidly changing profile of computer use, EDP Industry Report publishes this census, with the status of general-purpose electronic digital computers, made by U.S.-based companies, as of the first of each month. Computers with an average system purchase price of less than $25,000 are not included. The figures for total installations are broken down between those in the U.S. and those outside; only the grand total for orders is given. These figures are combined and updated each month by the International Data Corporation, Newtonville, Mass., a market research firm that specializes in the information processing industry. The census is available only in EDP/IR.
In general, manufacturers in the computer industry do not officially release installation and on-order figures. The figures in this census are developed through a continuing market survey conducted by the International Data Corporation. The market research program includes a worldwide computer installation locator file which identifies, by customer, the installation sites of electronic computers. The resulting census counts are submitted to individual computer manufacturers for their review and voluntary confirmation.
This report is “as of” 1 May 1969, just 42 years ago, and 80 days prior to the first Apollo moon landing. The total number of installed digital computers manufactured by U.S.-based companies was estimated at 71,128, with 68% of them installed in the U.S.
A few of you might remember that there was a battle going on between these new fangled digital computers and the tried and true analog computers that were everywhere in the military and were common in science and industry applications. By the mid 1960s, digital computers were becoming popular for business applications, but “real computing” was still often done with analog computers. An analog computer uses physical objects to model the problem, as opposed to digital computers that simply manipulate numbers. A slide rule is an analog computer, using the changing position of the slides to quickly model some simple or very complex mathematical relationships. Analog computers might use springs, dashpots (viscous-fluid dampers), pulleys and weights, hydraulics, electrical components or combinations. In about 1967, the University of Delaware computing department staged a contest between a digital computer, the Scientific Data Systems SDS 9300, and a large mechanical analog computer. The problem was some fairly complex fluid dynamics equation. The analog team spent all night setting up the problem and initial conditions on the half-a-ping-pong-table sized analog computer. The analog computer then solved the problem in a few seconds. The digital team spent about an hour writing a Fortran program to solve the problem. Then the computer spent the night and half the next day solving it. The analog computer won. But a couple of years later there were no analog computers in the computer lab.
To put that 71,000 total installed base in a little perspective, Apple sold 300,000 iPads on its launch day, 3 April 2010. OK, it really isn’t a fair comparison. The iPad didn’t cost $25,000, didn’t fill a room, and ran off a little battery instead of a being a noticeable drag on an electric power substation. The iPad also has more memory, more storage, faster processor, and better network connectivity than your typical 1969 mainframe. I remember when in 1969 we got a significant disk storage upgrade on a mainframe to a total of 100MB. And it only took up about 3 feet by 10 feet of floor space. Today, a $10 2GB USB drive has 20 times the storage, and is faster. A fast network connection then was 4800 baud, or in todays terms less than 0.05Mb/sec.
What, to me anyway, is even more interesting is the companies listed. I remember talking about “IBM and the seven dwarfs,” then in the 1970s “IBM and the BUNCH” (Burroughs, Univac, NCR, CDC, Honeywell). This table lists IBM and 17 others. They are listed here in decreasing order of estimated installed systems:
- IBM (44,943 installed systems, 63.2% of total)
No surprise it is number 1. IBM is still designing and manufacturing mainframe computer systems based on their products from this era. Probably everybody has heard of Thomas J. Watson’s (IBM CEO from 1914-1956) alleged statement in 1943: “I think there is a world market for about five computers.” There is no evidence he actually said that. However, in 1953 he did say there were “some 20 concerns that we thought could use such a machine” in the US, referring to their recently announced IBM 701. They actually sold 19.
- Univac (5,803 = 8.2%)
Remington Rand was founded in 1927, originally as a typewriter manufacturer. Univac was a division of the Remington Rand Corporation formed in 1950 by the purchase of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, founded in 1946 by the inventors of the ENIAC. UNIVAC is an acronym for UNIVersal Automatic Computer. The Sperry Gyroscope Company, founded in 1910, became Sperry Corporation in 1933. It acquired Remington Rand, and thus Univac, in 1955. Sperry and Burroughs merged to become Unisys in 1986. Unisys is still designing and manufacturing mainframe computer systems based on Univac products from this era.
- National Cash Register (NCR, 4,675 = 6.6%)
NCR was founded in 1884 to manufacture, surprise, cash registers. In 1953 it acquired Computer Research Corporation, which started its entry into the digital computer market. By 1986 it was one of the remaining four mainframe makers (IBM, CDC, NCR, Unisys). NCR is no longer in the mainframe marketplace. NCR was acquired by AT&T in 1991, and became a separate company again in 1997. It is the only company acquired by AT&T and then de-acquired (if that is a word) that retained its original name.
- Honeywell (3,828 = 5.4%)
Honeywell was originally the Minneapolis Heat Regulator Company because of the invention of a thermostat for coal furnaces. In 1927, it merged with the Honeywell Heating Speciality Co. and became the Minneapolis-Honeywell Regulator Company. Honeywell formed a joint venture with Raytheon called Datamatic Corp in 1957, but that quickly became a Honeywell division. In 1966 it had also purchased Computer Control Corporation, and purchased General Electric’s computer division in 1970. In 1991, Honeywell’s computer division was sold to Group Bull, now Bull SAS, a French-owned company.
- General Electric (2,509 = 3.5%)
GE traces its lineage back to 1890 and Thomas Edison and the Edison General Electric Company. General Electric was formed in 1892 by the merger of the Edison General Electric and Thomson-Houston Electric Company. GE got into computer manufacturing in the 1950s, according to legend, because they were the largest user of computers outside of the US government. GE sold its computer division to Honeywell in 1970.
- Digital Equipment Corp (DEC, 2,237 = 3.1%)
DEC was formed in 1957 to take an innovative interactive computing device from MIT to market. This device evolved to the PDP-1 in 1959, which led to the entire PDP and later VAX family of computer systems. The company steadily grew until the early 1990s and was often number 2 in the industry after IBM. However, by 1992 they had started selling off product lines. What remained of DEC was sold to Compaq in 1998, which was in turn acquired by HP in 2002.
- Control Data Corp (CDC, 1,882 = 2.6%)
CDC arose, through a convoluted path, from a US Navy code-breaking product in World War II. They formed Engineering Research Associates, which had only one customer, the US Navy. Around 1950, Congress was upset that the Navy essentially owned a computer company, so ERA was forced out on its own, with no capital. Remington Rand bought ERA in 1952, and then in 1955 Remington Rand was acquired by Sperry. In 1957, the original ERA team left Sperry to form Control Data Corp to get away from the “big company mentality” of Sperry. Between 1988 and 1992, CDC spun off or sold off everything and ceased to exist.
- Burroughs (1,642 = 2.3%)
Burroughs started in 1886 as the American Arithmometer Company making adding machines. The Burroughs adding machine was so popular, that in the 1920s Henry Ford had a special Burroughs version car with a strong shelf attached to the back of the front passenger seat specifically designed to securely hold a Burroughs adding machine. The salesman sat in the backseat and did his accounting chores while being driven to the next sales opportunity by his chauffeur. (Don’t all good sales folk have their own chauffeur?) Sperry and Burroughs merged to become Unisys in 1986. Unisys is still designing and manufacturing mainframe computer systems based on one of the Burroughs product lines from this era.
- RCA (1,622 = 2.3%)
The Radio Corporation of America was created in 1919 under the control of General Electric at the insistence of the US Navy. They wanted to make sure that the wireless radio technology remained firmly in US hands, largely influenced by the importance of wireless radio during World War I. RCA separated from General Electric in 1929, and because of antitrust charges, both GE and Westinghouse (who had a minority interest) had to give up all ownership of RCA in 1930. Through most of the 1960s, RCA developed and sold computer systems. RCA abandoned computers in 1971, with Sperry taking over their user base.
- Scientific Data Systems (SDS, 1,056 = 1.5%)
SDS was formed in 1961 as an early adopter of integrated circuits and the first to employ silicon transistors. It was one of these systems at the University of Delaware mentioned above. Their biggest customer was NASA to support the Apollo program. Xerox bought SDS in 1969, but due to mismanagement closed the division in 1975.
- System Engineering Labs (257 = 0.4%)
SEL was founded in 1958 as minicomputers broke out of the 16-bit boundary. Their first product was a device to sample low-level analog signals and convert them to digital signals. SEL was purchased by Gould Electronics in 1981 as a separate Gould Computer Systems Division, which was sold to Encore Computer Corporation in 1981, then pieces sold off to Sun (1997) and Compro Computer Services (2002). The last remaining piece of Encore closed down in 2003.
- Raytheon (200, 0.3%)
Raytheon was formed in 1922 as the American Appliance Company to focus on new refrigeration technology, but quickly shifted to electronics. The name was changed to Raytheon Manufacturing Company in 1925. In 1961 Raytheon acquired the British electronics company A.C. Cossor, which was founded in 1859 (not a typo) to manufacture scientific glassware. During the 1960s, Raytheon sold real-time computers with sophisticated analog-to-digital conversion units, often associated with their radar units. FYI, “Raytheon” means “light from the gods” (from the Old French word “rai” meaning “a beam of light” and the Greek “theon” for “from the gods”).
- Scientific Control Corp (159 = 0.2%)
I never heard of this company, and neither has Wikipedia. They were formed in 1968, but are no longer active. In 1969 they manufactured a few models of a system that looked physically a lot like the same-era DEC PDP systems.
- Electronic Associates (134 = 0.2%)
Electronic Associates was founded in 1952. They manufactured analog computers in the 1950s and 1960s, but now focus on custom-built cables assemblies and wiring harnesses, specializing in the military and aircraft markets.
- EMR Computer (112 = 0.1%)
EMR (Electro-Mechanical Research, Inc.) was founded in 1957 focused primarily on telemetry. They manufactured a few models of computer systems in the late 1960s. They were a division of Weston Instruments, and then have been operated by several different companies included Fairchild Camera and Instrument, and Lockheed Martin. I cannot find a record of them after the Pioneer 11 project (launched in 1973).
- Philco (41 = 0.1%)
Philco was founded in 1892 as the Helios Electric Company manufacturing carbon-arc lamps. The Philco brand appeared in 1919. In 1954 they invented the surface barrier transistor, the first suitable for use in high-speed computers. Their first computer was under a US government grant in 1955. In the 1960s, Philco computers were used for air defense and space tracking systems. Ford acquired Philco in 1961, renaming it Philco-Ford. Ford sold Philco to General Telephone and Electronics in 1974, keeping the aerospace portion as Ford Aerospace. Philips bought Philco in 1981, primarily to get the rights to use the Philco name. Why “Philco?” Because it was a company founded in Philadelphia, PA.
- Standard Computer Corp (20 = 0.0%)
Standard Computer Corp was founded in 1965. It was selling minicomputers at least into the early 1970s. By the early 1990s, a company with the same name was selling laptops.
- Hewlett-Packard (HP, 8 = 0.0%)
HP was founded in 1939 with an initial capital investment of $538. Originally HP was using DEC microcomputers with HP’s instruments, but decided it would be easier to just design and build their own. The entered the computer market in 1966 with a series of minicomputers. In 2001, HP and Compaq merged.
These companies fall into two categories: those that started at the beginning of the digital computer age in the decades after World War II, and those that had been formed far earlier based on other products. Those in the first category (CDC, DEC, Electronic Associates, EMR, Scientific Control Corp, SDS, SEL, Standard Computer Corp) together represented 8.2% of the 1969 computer market, about the same as the number 2 ranked Univac. Today, they don’t exist. There is probably a lesson to be learned here, but I’m not seeing it.
I thought of making a “family tree” but it made my head hurt. This simplified genealogy of the 1969 cohort has left out dozens of other participants, parents, and incestuous children.
The last word:
Both IBM and Unisys have a much longer history than many people expect, both with roots going back to the 1880s. IBM was formed in 1911 from the merger of the Tabulating Machine Company (founded in the late 1880s), the International Time Recording Company (1900), and the Computing Scale Corporation (1901). It was originally the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation. It became the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in 1924.
Burroughs was originally founded in 1886 as the American Arithmometer Company, changing its name to the Burroughs Adding Machine Company in 1904, and Burroughs Corporation in 1953. It was renamed as Unisys in 1986 as the result of the merger of Burroughs and Sperry (Univac).
Both IBM and Unisys were early and significant innovators in the digital computer market, and both are still making mainframe-class computers. Both probably have customers they first acquired 35+ years ago.
Keep your sense of humor.