[SIGCIS-Members] UNIVAC and RCA Tape Drives ca. 1960

Kidwell, Peggy kidwellp at si.edu
Fri Aug 20 08:24:51 PDT 2010

Dear All:

We are now working on a small exhibit relating to the fiftieth anniversary of the first successful test of the compatibility of COBOL programs in December of 1960.  Programs ran successfully on both a UNIVAC computer and an RCA 501.  To suggest the size and appearance of computers of the time, we plan to include a Unityper II from a UNIVAC and a single tape station from an RCA 501 (for an image of an RCA 501, see http://ed-thelen.org/comp-hist/BRL61-0778.jpg.  The tape stations are in the back of the picture and on the left side).  Looking at the tape station from the RCA 501 in the Smithsonian collections, I was surprised to discover that it not only had a tag on the inside of the cabinet reading RADIO CORPORATION of AMERICA (and a serial number as a model 581, which a model number for RCA tape stations for the 501) but also was labeled on the outside:  UNIVAC SPERRY RAND (/) SERIES 70.  It is possible that this label was added after Sperry Rand Univac acquired RCA in 1971.  However, the RCA 501 is not described in Auerbach's 1969 description of available computers, so this seems a bit unlikely.  It's also possible that RCA manufactured tape stations for Sperry Rand Univac or vice versa - which might make the story of the compatibility test more interesting.  Insights and suggestions welcome.

Peggy A. Kidwell
Curator of Mathematics
Division of Science & Medicine
Smithsonian Institution
P.O. Box 37012
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012
address for FedEx and UPS:
NMAH, Smithsonian Institution
12th St. & Constitution
Washington, D.C. 20560
telephone: 202-633-3828
fax: 202-633-9273
email: kidwellp at si.edu

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