Commercial Business Computer (EDVAC/UNIVAC)

Mauchly and Eckert, inventors of the ENIAC, set out to create a commercial computer. They worked with government officials who needed fast computing, including military and census officials.

Eventually, their employer, the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Engineering announced an intent to keep all patents produced by faculty. Henceforth, the two promptly resigned and created their own computer company, Electronic Control Company (ECC). Subsequently, Penn denied tenure to both of them.

Consequently, all was going well until the Red Scare. FBI officials charged Mauchly and a number of people on his staff as communist sympathizers. This caused them to lose government contracts needed to keep the company afloat. Mauchly was banned from working on the technology for two years.

To remain solvent during this time, ECC built a small computer, the BINAC, for Northrop. Eventually, investor Harry Strauss invested $500K, hoping the computer would be useful for gambling.

Strauss died in a plane crash Oct. 25, 1949. Subsequently, the company sold itself to Remington Rand in Feb. 1950. They had offered the company to IBM, twice. The first time, Watson Sr. rejected the deal when Mauchley put his feet on a coffee table. The second time, IBM lawyers worried the acquisition would cause antitrust troubles.

They completed their computer, the UNIVAC, in 1951. It became a bestseller.

The FBI eventually cleared Mauchly and restored his security clearance. Apparently, the “communistically inclined” accusation stemmed from two pieces of “evidence.” He signed a card and paid $1 for a pamphlet from a scientific organization which believed atomic technology should remain in civilian control and also supported Consumers Union, thought to be part of a communist plot.

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