Burroughs Corporation

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The Burroughs Corporation was a major American manufacturer of business equipment. The company was founded in 1886 as the American Arithmometer Company and after the 1986 merger with Sperry Univac was renamed as Unisys. The company's history paralleled many of the major developments in computing. At its start it produced mechanical adding machines, and later moved into programmable ledgers and then computers. And while it was one of the largest producers of mainframe computers in the world, Burroughs also produced related equipment as well, including typewriters and printers.


Early history

1914 advertisement
An early Burroughs adding machine
Desktop model in use around 1910

In 1886, the American Arithmometer Company was established in St. Louis, Missouri to produce and sell an adding machine invented by William Seward Burroughs (grandfather of Beat Generation author William S. Burroughs). In 1904, six years after Burroughs' death, the company moved to Detroit and changed its name to the Burroughs Adding Machine Company. It soon was the biggest adding machine company in America.

Evolving product lines

The adding machine range began with the basic, hand-cranked P100 which was only capable of adding. The design included some revolutionary features, foremost of which was the "dashpot" - an oil-filled piston assembly designed to cushion the spring driven return of the main assembly. the P200 offered a subtraction capability and the P300 provided a means of keeping 2 separate totals. The P400 and the P600, the top of the range of which was the P612 provided a moveable carriage and, in the case of the P600/P612 range some limited programmability based upon the position of the carriage. The range was further extended by the inclusion of the "J" series which provided a single finger calculation facility, and the "c" series of both manual and electrical assisted comptometers. In the late 60's the Burroughs sponsored "nixi-tube" provided an electrocnic dsiplay calculator. Burroughs developed a range of adding machines with different capabilities, gradually increasing in their capabilities. A revolutionary adding machine was the Sensimatic, which was able to perform many business functions semi-automatically. It had a moving programmable carriage to maintain ledgers. It could store 9, 18 or 27 balances during the ledger posting operations and worked with a mechanical adder named a Crossfooter. The Sensimatic developed into the Sensitronic which could store balances on a magnetic stripe which was part of the ledger card. This balance was read into the accumulator when the card was inserted into the carriage. The Sensitronic was followed by the E1000, the E2000, E4000, E6000 and the E8000, which was computer system supporting magnetic tape, card reader/punches and a line printer.

In time, Burroughs was selling more than adding machines, including typewriters. But the biggest shift in company history came in 1953; the Burroughs Adding Machine Company was renamed the Burroughs Corporation and began moving into computer products, initially for banking institutions. This move began with Burrough's purchase, in June 1956, of the ElectroData Corporation in Pasadena, California, a spinoff of the Consolidated Engineering Corporation which had designed test instruments and had a cooperative relationship with Caltech in Pasadena.[1] ElectroData had built the Datatron 205 and was working on the Datatron 220.[1] The first major computer product that came from this marriage was the B205 tube computer. In the late 1960s the D2000, D4000 range was produced (also known as the TC500—Terminal Computer 500) which had a golf ball printer and a 1K (80 bit) disk memory. These were popular as branch terminals to the B5500/6500/6700 systems, which sold well in the banking sector, where they were often connected to non-Burroughs mainframes. In conjunction with these products, Burroughs also manufactured an extensive range of cheque processing equipment, normally attached as terminals to a larger system such as a B2700 or B1700.

A force in the computing industry

Burroughs was one of the eight major United States computer companies (with IBM, the largest, Honeywell, NCR Corporation, Control Data Corporation, General Electric, RCA and UNIVAC) through most of the 1960s. In terms of sales, Burroughs was always a distant second to IBM. In fact, IBM's share of the market at the time was so much larger than all of the others, that this group was often referred to as "IBM and the Seven Dwarfs."[2] By 1972 when GE and RCA were no longer in the mainframe business, the remaining five companies behind IBM became known as the BUNCH, an acronym based on their initials.

At the same time, Burroughs was very much a competitor. Like IBM, Burroughs tried to supply a complete line of products for its customers, including Burroughs-designed printers, disk drives, tape drives, computer printing paper, and even typewriter ribbons.

In the 1950s, Burroughs had worked with the Federal Reserve Bank on the development and computer processing of magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) especially for the processing of bank cheques. Burroughs made special MICR/OCR sorter/readers which attached to their medium systems line of computers (2700/3700/4700) and this entrenched the company in the computer side of the banking industry.

Developments and innovations

The Burroughs Corporation developed three highly innovative architectures, based on the design philosophy of "language directed design". Their machine instruction sets favored one or many high level programming languages, such as ALGOL, COBOL or FORTRAN. All three architectures were considered mainframe class machines:


In September 1986, Burroughs Corporation merged with Sperry Corporation to form Unisys. For a time, the combined company retained the Burroughs processors as the A and V systems lines. However, as the market for large systems shifted from proprietary architectures to common servers, the company eventually dropped the V-Series line, although V-series systems were still in use by customers as of 2010. The A-Series, now known as Clearpath, is still being developed and marketed by Unisys.

Re-emergence of the Burroughs name

Burroughs Payment Systems in Plymouth, Michigan, 2011

In 2010, UNISYS sold off its Payment Systems Division to Marlin Equity Partners, a California-based private investment firm, which incorporated it as Burroughs Payment Systems based in Plymouth, Michigan.[12][13]

References in popular culture

Burroughs B205 hardware has appeared as props in many Hollywood television and film productions from the 1960s onwards. For example a B205 console was often shown in the television series Batman as the Bat Computer; also as the computer in Lost in Space. B205 tape drives were often seen in series such as The Time Tunnel and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.[14]


  1. ^ a b Sawyer, T.J., "Burroughs 205 HomePage"
  2. ^ Dvorak, John C. (2006-11-25). "IBM and the Seven Dwarfs — Dwarf One: Burroughs". Dvorak Uncensored. http://www.dvorak.org/blog/ibm-and-the-seven-dwarfs-dwarf-one-burroughs/. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  3. ^ Burroughs B80 Family
  5. ^ "China Deal For Burroughs", The New York Times, AP story, January 3, 1985
  6. ^ "Burroughs BUIC - AN/GSA-51 SAGE Backup", archived at SMECC
  7. ^ James P. Anderson , Samuel A. Hoffman , Joseph Shifman , Robert J. Williams, "D825 - a multiple-computer system for command & control", Proceedings of the December 4–6, 1962, fall joint computer conference, p.86-96, December 04–06, 1962, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (doi>10.1145/1461518.1461527)
  8. ^ Enslow, Philip H., Jr., "Multiprocessor Organization - A Survey", Computing Surveys, Vol. 9, March 1977, pp.103–129.
  9. ^ "Burroughs Display Systems", Defense and Space Group Marketing Division, Paoli, Pennsylvania, 1965
  10. ^ a b Gray, George, "Burroughs Third-Generation Computers", Unisys History Newsletter, Volume 3, Number 5, October, 1999
  11. ^ "Title: Trade show exhibition featuring the D84; Date 1965", University of Minnesota archives
  12. ^ "Marlin Equity Partners acquires elements of Unisys payment systems", Burroughs press release, February 3, 2010.
  13. ^ Burroughs Payment Systems website. "The re-emergence of a company brand that began over 100 years ago solidifies our commitment to provide innovative solutions to your business needs. Back then, the introduction of Burroughs adding machines simplified daily operations for thousands of corporations. Today, our focus on payment systems related technologies and services has resulted in countless efficiencies for financial institutions and businesses alike who process check and cash transactions."
  14. ^ "B205 On Screen"

Further reading

External links