Main Content

Reverse-engineering a mysterious Univac computer board

The IBM 1401 team at the Computer History Museum accumulates a lot of mystery components from donations and other sources. While going through a box, we came across the unusual circuit board below. At first, it looked like an IBM SMS (Standard Modular System) card, the building block of IBM’s computers of the late 1950s and early 1960s.1 However, this board is larger, has double-sided wiring, the connector is different, and the labeling is different.

I asked around about the board and Robert Garner identified it as from the Univac 1004, a plugboard-controlled data processing system from 1963.4 The Univac 1004 was marketed as a “Card Processor” rather than a computer,3 designed for business applications that read punch cards and producing output, but still required calculation and logical decisions. Typical applications were payroll, inventory, billing, or accounting.

The most unusual feature of the Univac 1004 was that it was programmed by a plugboard (below) instead of a stored program. The system was programmed by plugging patch cords into a plugboard to indicate the desired action for each of the 31 program steps. While earlier electromechanical accounting machines used plugboards, they were pretty much obsolete by 1963, so I was a bit surprised to see plugboards still in use.”

Link to article