The Birth of the Computer Industry
Informal and unedited notes, not for distribution. (c) Z. Stachniak, 2011.
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How many computers are needed: four, ve, six?
The work on worlds rst computers in the late 1940s created the rst gen-
eration of computer experts: hardware designers, programmers, analysts.
They continued to work on computers and to disseminate computer knowl-
edge that they acquired opening up computing to new organizations and new
applications. Some decided to try their luck with their own computer com-
panies that were to build not a single computer for some dedicated scientic
or military purpose but a series of hardware for general commercial use.
In 1949, Konrad Zuse (the creator of the Z1, Z3, and Z4) founded Zuse
KG (quite successful);
in 1946, J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly (the designers of ENIAC)
founded Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation (later acquired by Rem-
ington Rand) and designed the UNIVAC I (UNIVersal Automatic Com-
puter I) the rst American volume-manufactured computer;
Howard Aiken (the creator of the Mark 1 programmable calculator)
continued his designs of programmable calculators and computers com-
ing up with: Mark 2, 3, and 4;
the work initiated by Williams and Kilburn at the University of Manch-
ester (The Baby) attracted Ferranti (UK) to computer making and that
would be one of the main business lines of the company until its closure
the work on von Neummans IAS computer attracted the attention
of many institutions around the world to computing and seeded their
1 The success of the early computers also attracted the attention of large cor-
porations which began to contemplate manufacturing of their own electronic
computers (e.g. IBM (USA), Ferranti (UK), Fuji (Japan), Remington Rand
Contemplate is a good word to describe a rather cautious approach taken
by the calculator and data processing industry as in the late 1940s it was not
clear how many of the computers a modern society would require, whether
there would be any commercial market for computers.
Various studies on the future use of computers commissioned by govern-
mental agencies such as U.S. Census Bureau or National Research Council
produced very negative results. Some quoted computer experts, like Howard
Aiken who, apparently, expressed an opinion that
a commercial market would never develop; in the United States
there was a need for perhaps for ve or six such machines,
but no more. (see , page 13).
In spite of the large degree of uncertainty, some companies started manu-
facturing multiple version of computers for the commercial market as early
as 1951/52 when Ferranti started the production of its Mark 1, Remington
Rand its UNIVAC, and IBM its 701 Defence Calculator (although IBM was
referring to its hardware as calculators or electronic data processing and ac-
On the following pages we shall take a look at two companies, Remington
Rand and IBM, that started the commercial manufacturing of computers in
2 Fig. 1. The IBM 702 Giant Brain data processing system (1952). Source:
Scientic American, August 1954.
3 These early commercial computers, manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s, are
commonly classied as mainframes. They were large and required specially
constructed rooms, even whole oors of buildings to contain and protect
them. The mainframes required power substations (large power consump-
tion) and air conditioners to remove excessive heat generated by vacuum
tubes and other electronic components.
The mainframes were also very expensive and could be found only on the
premises of the largest and richest organizations exclusively, such as banks,
insurance companies, government and military departments and labs, large
industrial corporations, and selected universities (as they typically contributed
to the computers designs).
The programing and operation of mainframes was done by a selected priest-
hood of computer professionals who alone were granted access to the mys-
teries that could tame these monsters.