On this day in 1951, the first commercial electronic computer, the bungalow-sized UNIVAC 1, was demonstrated UNIVAC 3and dedicated in Philadelphia by staff of the U.S. Census Bureau, which purchased UNIVAC from the Remington Rand Corporation.

UNIVAC I was the first American computer designed at the outset for business and administrative use with fast execution of relatively simple arithmetic and data transport operations, as opposed to the complex numerical calculations required of scientific computers. As such, the UNIVAC competed directly with punch-card machines, though the UNIVAC originally could neither read nor punch cards. That shortcoming hindered sales to companies concerned about the high cost of manually converting large quantities of existing data stored on cards. This was mitigated by adding offline card processing equipment to transfer data between cards and UNIVAC magnetic tapes.

Newsman Walter Cronkite during a demonstration of the UNIVAC 1 in 1951. {}


Early market share of the UNIVAC I was lower than the Remington Rand Company hoped for. To promote sales, the company joined with CBS to have UNIVAC I predict the result of the 1952 Presidential election. UNIVAC I predicted Eisenhower would have a landslide victory over Adlai Stevenson whom pollsters heavily favored. The CBS crew was so certain that UNIVAC was wrong that they pretended it was not working. As the election results came in and it became clear that the computer was correct all along, the CBS announcer admitted their sleight of hand. The result was a greater public awareness of computing technology, and from then on computerized predictions have been and integral part of election night broadcasts.