Friday, July 30, 2010

Meet The Univac 1107 Supercomputer

The Univac 1107
Meet the Univac 1107 Thin Film Memory Computer. Back in the '60s, the "Seven" (as all the hip computer scientists called it) was on the cutting edge of technology. All it needed was a small team of people to type up punch cards, transfer tape reels, flip some switches, turn some knobs, and occasionally unjam the cards when they got stuck and the Univac 1107 could calculate an entire company's payroll in just about four hours. You could even get it with a "high-speed" printer. Miraculous.

Univac's were originally developed to help with the US census, and they were made by the world's second biggest computer company, Remington Rand. They're probably better remembered for their typewriters and electric shavers, but back in the day, apparently only IBM was ahead of them when it came to these things. In total, 36 Univac 1107's were sold and one of them—with a 6 MB hard drive and 256 RAM—was sold to the city of Toronto. We paid $1.5 million for it in 1966 and used it to control all of the traffic lights in the city.


A friend of mine stumbled across a great picture of our Univac as she was flipping through the most beautiful Toronto history book I've found so far, the Historical Atlas of Toronto. I can't find the photo online, but it shows a big console station surrounded by banks of electronics and tape reels, and a huge map of Toronto on the wall behind it, with little lights showing all the relevant intersections in the city. It looks like something from 2001 and Sleeper and Dr. Strangelove all rolled into one.

If you've got 17 minutes to kill, you can also watch this great promotional video Remington Rand released about the history and features of the Univacs:

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