Sunday, July 14, 2024


The history of the first electronic computer began in the USA in 1942. Then physicist John Atanasoff and graduate student Clifford Berry designed and began assembling the world’s first computer. Even though it wasn’t completed, it became an impetus for the developers who continued the work. They were John Mauchly and John Eckert who founded the Electronic Control Company in Philadelphia. They not only created the first electronic computing digital machine but also developed the new generation computers, UNIVAC and BINAC. Learn more at philadelphia-future.

How did John Mauchly and John Eckert decide to start a company?

The Electronic Control Company, specializing in the computer industry, appeared in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1946. Its founders were scientist John William Mauchly and engineer John Presper Eckert. But how exactly did the idea for such a startup come about and where did it all start? To answer these and other questions, let’s dive a little into the biographies of these people.

Photo of John Mauchly

John Eckert was born in Philadelphia. From an early age, he was interested in engineering and even attended a special club, where he spent most of his afternoon free time. But the boy’s parents wanted him to join the family business. Therefore, John enters the Wharton School. Soon, he was transferred to the Moore School of Electrical Engineering, which operated at the University of Pennsylvania. Today, it is a part of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the same educational institution.

In the summer of 1941, he participated in the American program Engineering, Science, and Management War Training as a teacher. At the summer courses in the same year, he met John Mauchly, who in the future would become his partner and one of the founders of the Electronic Control Company in Philadelphia.

He was a student at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering, where Eckert was a teacher. Interestingly, after that meeting, Mauchly became an assistant professor at the Moore School. Previously, he had already worked at the private research Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Two years later, the men proposed the idea of ​​an electronic digital computing machine with lamps. This idea was accepted and implemented in the ENIAC project in the interests of the American government. You can learn more about the history of the creation of the first digital computing machine in our next article. However, ENIAC wasn’t the key element in the formation of the entire company.

UNIVAC computer

The Electronic Control Company appeared in Philadelphia in 1946, after the success of the ENIAC project and the worldwide dispute over patent policy. Interestingly, the company is considered one of the first to specialize in the manufacture of computers. In the same year, the company received its first order and right away from the US Census Bureau! It is an important central statistical authority in the United States of America.

In those years, none of the founders had any idea how much a computer should cost. After all, there was no market and demand for such technology in the USA. Therefore, it was difficult to compare the prices and establish your own based on competitors. Still, Mauchly and Eckert undertook to create another computer, no less powerful than ENIAC and cheaper.

It was planned to spend about $300,000 on its development. It was carried out from 1947 to 1951. The new computer was called UNIVAC I and subsequent models in the release were called just UNIVAC. $300,000 wasn’t enough, so Mauchly and Eckert spent about $1,000,000.

John Mauchly and UNIVAC

The first copy was purchased by the US Census Bureau. UNIVAC also appeared in other important government institutions. Interestingly, the model wasn’t intended for scientific research in the creation of weapons. The computer consumed 125 kW of electricity. It weighed 13 tons and was smaller than the previous ENIAC model. The UNIVAC encoding included symbols from the English alphabet in addition to numbers. This allowed users to make short records.

BINAC computer

Shortly after the design and release of Mauchly and Eckert’s UNIVAC, the Electronic Control Company and Northrop Corporation entered into a contract to create another model of the electronic digital computer. The Northrop Corporation was engaged in aircraft construction in the USA from 1939 to 1994. They provided services to the American government and carried out military orders.

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The Northrop Corporation planned to place a new model of a computer by Electronic Control Company in their planes. The military would be able to guide Snark long-range missile targets using BINAC, the company’s first-generation electronic computer.

It was officially launched in 1949. Today, BINAC is considered the first model of a commercial electronic computer, even though it served military purposes. This order was to cover the cost of UNIVAC development. Mauchly and Eckert got $80,000 of a down payment for BINAC and continued work on the project.

Investment of the American Totalisator Company in the Electronic Control Company

The Electronic Control Company was developing. Its clients were mostly government agencies or important American companies that needed a modern digital computer produced in Philadelphia. Even so, the Electronic Control Company was still experiencing financial difficulties as of 1947. Soon, they changed the company’s name to the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation.

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The corporation took a course for expansion. Mauchly and Eckert began looking for investors. The company offered a very generous and profitable offer, and after a long search, they were found. The investors of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation became the American Totalisator Company.

The investments allowed the Philadelphia corporation to conclude about six contracts for UNIVAC I computers in 1949 alone. After the tragic death of the American Totalisator Company’s Vice President, the agreement was terminated.

Sale of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation

A year later, John Mauchly and John Eckert decided to sell the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation to a larger company. In 1950, it became the property of the former Remington Rand, which specialized in the manufacture of office equipment, electric shavers and electronic computing machines. After Remington Rand acquired the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation and Engineering Research Associates, it became almost the largest company in the USA.

However, already in 1955, they joined forces with Sperry Corporation and became Sperry Rand. In the late 1980s, Sperry Rand merged with the largest manufacturer of office products, the Burroughs Corporation. Thus, a new computer company, headquartered in Pennsylvania, called Unisys was formed.

Remington Rand. Photo source:

After the sale of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation to Remington Rand, the founders of the first parted ways. In 1951, the founders together with Remington Rand finished work on the first commercial computer UNIVAC I. It marked the beginning of a whole series of computers. But after a few years, John Mauchly left the company. He became a private consultant. However, John Eckert stayed and worked there until 1989.

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