Penn Library

John W. Mauchly and the Development of the ENIAC Computer

Out On Their Own, 1946-1951

As if the other controversies were not enough, Mauchly and Eckert were forced to resign from the Moore School not long after the public announcement of the ENIAC. While in the 1990s it would be unthinkable for a university not to have a well-developed patent policy, this was the case at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1940s. The university did have a general policy barring its faculty from obtaining private patents based on university research. But the ENIAC was supported through military funds and not through the university's own resources. Given this ambiguity, Dean Harold Pender of the Moore School made a special allowance for Mauchly and Eckert to apply independently for the ENIAC patent. After World War II the military demanded all academic institutions seeking research contracts to have uniform patent policies, so the University demanded that Mauchly and Eckert turn their patent rights back over to the University. Having done the work of filing the patent themselves, Mauchly and Eckert were not about to oblige. This decision ultimately led to their resignations, effective 31 March 1946.
Mauchly and Eckert ultimately formed the Electronic Controls Company in downtown Philadelphia. Eckert assumed the task of designing a new computer system, more or less along the lines laid out in von Neumann's report. Mauchly, meanwhile, took on the more general task of identifying the uses of electronic computers. This duty was important, because as a private venture the Electronic Controls Company had to sell its machines if it were to survive.

Photograph of quarters of the
Electronic Control Company, 1949.
(click to expand to 110k)

Flow chart showing UNIVAC's operation. (click to expand to 110k)

Cover illustration on UNIVAC brochure. (click to expand to 55k)
The company's first client was the U.S. Census Bureau. Mauchly recognized that the decennial census was but four years away and reasoned that he could sell a computer to the Census Bureau as a way of reducing its costs for tabulating its immense volume of data. As it turns out, the Census was attracted more to the speed rather than the economies afforded by the proposed new computer. Increasingly, manufacturers and government policy makers were seeking timely information about the national economy. The Census Bureau had expanded its operations to collect relevant data, but its processing capabilities were more limited, particularly when it involved some of the newer statistical sampling techniques.
Given the great concerns for postwar economic recovery, Mauchly found the Census Bureau very receptive to his proposals. The result was a contract, placed under the administration of the National Bureau of Standards, to have the Electronic Controls Company deliver a large-scale electronic computer. This work proceeded as the company was officially incorporated as the Eckert- Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC) in December of 1948.

Back cover of UNIVAC brochure of Eckert Mauchly Computer Corporation. (click to expand to 83k)

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