UNIVAC 90-column card

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File Format
Name UNIVAC 90-column card
Released 1930

UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer) was a venerable name in computing for many years, as one of the earliest computers and as a long-time competitor to IBM. The brand name originated with the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Company, which, via mergers and name changes over the years, became Remington-Rand, Sperry Rand, and finally Unisys. Author Isaac Asimov misinterpreted the name at one point to refer to "one vacuum tube", spurring him to create the fictional computer Multivac which figured in several of his science fiction stories; with multiple vacuum tubes, it was clearly a much more powerful computer! (A similar naming scheme in reverse resulted in Unix as wordplay on the Multics operating system.)

With the present-day descendant company Unisys infamous for aggressively enforcing patents such as the LZW patent which encumbered the GIF image format in the 1990s and early 2000s, it's ironic that their entry into the punched card field was prompted by an attempt to evade a patent. The IBM card, with 80 columns and rectangular punches, had been introduced in 1928 and was patented by IBM. However, at least in some countries, the patent only covered rectangular punches and could be avoided by creating a card format with circular punches, which Remington-Rand did in 1930 (for tabulating machines which predated the Univac). This format did IBM 10 columns better, managing to get 90 columns (instead of IBM's 80) by using two rows of 45 columns. The format remained in use for Univac computers through the 1970s.


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