800px-EdvacThe EDVAC¬† (Electronic Discreete Variable Automatic Computer) was one of the earliest electronic computers and is most noted for using binary and stored programs, radical differences to the previous ENIAC system. Designed by Eckert & Mauchly while at the University of Pennsylvania for the U.S. Army’s Ballistics Research Lab on a $100,000 contract in 1946, it was delivered after some setbacks in 1948 to the cost of $500,000.

Like most computers of this era, it was ridiculously large. The EDVAC used 6,000 vacuum tubes and took up 490 ft of floor space. It took a complement of 30 people to run, consumed 56kw of power, and weighed a staggering 17,300 lbs.

The project ultimately wound up causing a rift between Eckert & Mauchly and the University of Pennsylvania over patents. When both men quit, most of the senior engineers went with them to form the legendary Eckert-Mauchly Corporation.

EDVAC was running over 20 hours a day by 1960 and received a lot of upgrades over the years, including floating point arithmetic and magnetic drum memory. It was shut down in 1961 when it was replaced by the BRLESC.


univacThe UNIVAC I was the world’s first commercially available computer. The first UNIVAC I was delivered on June 14, 1951. From 1951 to 1958 a total of 46 UNIVAC I computers were delivered, all of which have since been phased out. In 1947, John Mauchly chose the name “UNIVAC” (Universal Automatic Computer) for his company’s product. UNIVAC was designed by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly (designers of the ENIAC). Their company, the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Company, was purchased by Sperry-Rand.

The UNIVAC handled both numbers and alphabetic characters equally well. The UNIVAC I was unique in that it separated the complex problems of input and output from the actual computation facility. Mercury delay lines were used to store the computer’s program. The program circulated within the lines in the form of acoustical pulses that could be read from the line and written into it.

Whirlwind Computer

whirlwind1The need for a system capable of true flight simulation was one of the outcomes of World War II, and the Navy commissioned MIT to research and develop one that could help them train bomber crews. After seeing the results of the school’s study, Project Whirlwind was created with Navy funding.

After discovering limitations in the speed of analog machines, a digital computer was conceived after a demonstration of the ENIAC in 1945. Six years later the first computer that could operate in real time and run output on video displays came online April 20, 1951. Up until then computers were fed single instructions prepared in advance and ran them in the common bit-serial mode. The Whirlwind was designed to use bit-parallel mode, vastly increasing it’s computational power over other machines of the time.¬†The Whirlwind was sixteen times faster than other machines of the era.

Today nearly all computer processors use this mode, marking the Whirlwind as one of the grandfathers of the modern computer age. It was a system that made a hugely influential impact on the design of future machines, and eventually led to the development of the U.S. Air Force’s SAGE system, the TX-0 and TX-2, and contributed to nearly every computer and minicomputer of the early 60s and beyond.

Lyons Tea Company

lyons4First established in the last quarter of the nineteenth century by four entrepreneurs (Isidore and Montague Gluckstein, Barnett Salmon and Joseph Lyons), J. Lyons & Co. became one of the largest catering and food manufacturing companies in the world. From modest beginnings as supplier of catering to the Newcastle Exhibition (UK), in 1887, the new firm rapidly expanded to become the first food empire which, at its height, was the largest in Europe. In the process Lyons became a household name and the ‘Joe Lyons’ Corner Houses and teashops, with their ‘Nippy’ waitresses, caught the public imagination and passed into history.

Lyons Electronic Office (LEO)

leoEngland’s first commercial computer, the Lyons Electronic Office, solved clerical problems. The president of Lyons Tea Co. had the computer, modeled after the EDSAC, built to solve the problem of daily scheduling production and delivery of cakes to the Lyons tea shops. After the success of the first LEO, Lyons went into business manufacturing computers to meet the growing need for data processing systems.