UNIVAC I Serial 5 Successfully Predicts the Election of Dwight D. Eisenhower

UNIVAC predicting election of Dwight D. Eisenhower

Walter Cronkite (right) listens as Dr. J. Presper Eckert (center) describes the functions of the UNIVAC I computer he helped develop in the early 1950s on television, November 4, 1952.

On November 4, 1952 UNIVAC I, serial 5, used by the CBS television network in New York City, successfully predicted the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower as president of the United States. This was the first time that millions of people (including me, then aged 7) saw and heard about an electronic computer. The computer, far too large and delicate to be moved, was actually in Eckert-Mauchly's corporate office in Philadelphia. What was televised by Walter Cronkite from CBS studios in New York was a dummy terminal connected by teletype to the machine in Philadelphia.

For record, watching this television broadcast was the first time I heard about an electronic computer. Predating the entrance of IBM into the digital computer industry, UNIVAC was dominant in earliest days of the industry in the U.S.

Univac 1, serial 5 was later installed at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories in Livermore, California.

♦ In 2010 journalist Ira Chinoy completed a dissertation on journalists' early encounters with computers as tools for news reporting, focusing on election-night forecasting in 1952. The dissertation, which also explored methods journalists used to cover elections in the age of print, was entitled Battle of the Brains: Election-Night Forecasting at the Dawn of the Computer Age.

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