World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Burroughs Corporation

Article Id: WHEBN0000004524
Reproduction Date:

Title: Burroughs Corporation  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Unisys, Virtual memory, UNIVAC, ALGOL, List of UNIVAC products
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Burroughs Corporation

Burroughs Corporation
Industry Hardware
Founded 1886
Defunct 1986
Headquarters St. Louis, Missouri
Key people
William Seward Burroughs I

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 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. 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 electronic display 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, E3000, E4000, E6000 and the E8000, which was computer system supporting magnetic tape, card reader/punches and a line printer.

Later, 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 Burroughs' 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 L and TC series range was produced (i.e the TC500—Terminal Computer 500) which had a golf ball printer and in the beginning a 1K (64 bit) disk memory. These were popular as branch terminals to the B5500/6500/6700 systems, and 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 nine major United States computer companies (with IBM, the largest, Honeywell, NCR Corporation, Control Data Corporation (CDC), General Electric (GE), Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), RCA and Sperry Rand (UNIVAC line)) 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 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:

  • The Burroughs large systems machines started with the B5000 in 1961. The B5500 came a few years later when large rotating disks replaced drums as the main external memory media. These B5000 Series systems used the world's first virtual memory multi-programming operating system. They were followed by the B6500/B6700 in the later 1960s, the B7700 in the mid 1970s, and the A series in the 1980s. The underlying architecture of these machines is similar and continues today as the Unisys ClearPath MCP line of computers: stack machines designed to be programmed in an extended Algol 60. Their operating systems, called MCP (Master Control Program—the name later borrowed by the screenwriters for Tron), were programmed in ESPOL (Executive Systems Programming Oriented Language, a minor extension of ALGOL), and later in NEWP (with further extensions to ALGOL) almost a decade before Unix. The command interface developed into a compiled structured language with declarations, statements and procedures called WFL (Work Flow Language). Many computer scientists consider these series of computers to be technologically groundbreaking. Stack oriented processors, with 48 bit word length where each word was defined as data or program contributed significantly to a secure operating environment, long before spyware and viruses affected computing. And the modularity of these large systems was also unique: multiple CPUs, multiple memory modules and multiple I/O and Data Comm processors permitted incremental and cost effective growth of system performance and reliability. In industries like banking, where continuous operations was mandatory, Burroughs large systems penetrated most every large bank, including the Federal Reserve Bank. And Burroughs built the backbone switching systems for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) which sent its first message in 1977. Unisys is still the provider to SWIFT today.
  • Burroughs produced the B2500 or "medium systems" computers aimed primarily at the business world. The machines were designed to execute COBOL efficiently. This included a BCD (Binary Coded Decimal) based arithmetic unit, storing and addressing the main memory using base 10 numbering instead of binary. The designation for these systems was Burroughs B2500 through B49xx, followed by Unisys V-Series V340 through V560.
  • Burroughs produced the B1700 or "small systems" computers that were designed to be microprogrammed, with each process potentially getting its own virtual machine designed to be the best match to the programming language chosen for the program being run.
  • The smallest general-purpose computers were the B700 "microprocessors" which were used both as stand-alone systems and as special-purpose data-communications or disk-subsystem controllers.
  • Burroughs also manufactured an extensive range of accounting machines including both stand-alone systems such as the Sensimatic, L500 and B80, and dedicated terminals including the TC500 and specialised check processing equipment.[3]
  • In 1982, Burroughs began producing personal computers, the B20 and B25 lines with the Intel 8086/8088 family of 16-bit chips as the processor.[4] These ran the BTOS operating system, which Burroughs licensed from Convergent Technologies. These machines implemented an early Local Area Network to share a hard disk between workgroup users. These microcomputers were later manufactured in Kunming, China for use in China under agreement with Burroughs.[5]
  • Burroughs collaborated with University of Illinois on a multiprocessor architecture developing the ILLIAC IV computer in the early 1960s. The ILLIAC had up to 128 parallel processors while the B6700 & B7700 only accommodated a total of 7 CPUs and/or IO units (the 8th unit was the memory tester).
  • Burroughs made military computers, such as the D825 (the "D" prefix signifying it was for defense industrial use), in its Great Valley Laboratory in Paoli, Pennsylvania.[6][7] The D825 was, according to some scholars, the first true multiprocessor computer.[8] Paoli was also home to the Defense and Space Group Marketing Division.[9]
  • In 1964 Burroughs had also completed the D830 which was another variation of the D825 designed specifically for real-time applications, such as airline reservations. Burroughs designated it the B8300 after JOVIAL, was intended to support some 4000 terminals, but even after a fourth processor was added it couldn't handle the workload. TWA canceled the project in 1970, acquiring one IBM System/360 Model 75, two IBM System/360 model 65s, and IBM's PARS software for its reservations system. TWA sued Burroughs for non-fulfillment of the contract, but Burroughs counter-sued, stating that the basic system did work and that the problems were in TWA's applications software. The two companies reached an out-of-court settlement.[10]
  • Burroughs developed a half-size version of the D825 called the D82, cutting the word size from 48 to 24 bits and simplifying the computer's instruction set. The D82 could have up to 32,768 words of core memory and continued the use of separate instruction and i/o processors. Burroughs sold a D82 to Air Canada to handle reservations for trips originating in Montreal and Quebec. This design was further refined and made much more compact as the D84 machine which was completed in 1965. A D84 processor/memory unit with 4096 words of memory occupied just 1.4 cubic feet. This system was used successfully in two military projects: field test systems used to check the electronics of the Air Force General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark fighter plane and systems used to control the countdown and launch of the Army's Pershing 1 Pershing 1a missile systems.[10][11]


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 customers continued to use V-series systems as of 2010. As of 2013 Unisys continues to develop and market the A-Series, now known as ClearPath.[12]

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.[13][14]

References in popular culture

Burroughs B205 hardware has appeared as props in many Hollywood television and film productions from the late 1950s. 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.[15]


  1. ^ a b Sawyer, T.J., "Burroughs 205 HomePage"
  2. ^
  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. ^
  8. ^
  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. ^
  13. ^ "Marlin Equity Partners acquires elements of Unisys payment systems", Burroughs press release, February 3, 2010.
  14. ^ Burroughs Payment Systems website.In 2012, the company changed its name to Burroughs, Inc. "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."
  15. ^ "B205 On Screen"

Further reading

  • Allweiss, Jack A., "Evolution of Burroughs Stack Architecture - Mainframe Computers", 2010
  • Barton, Robert S. "A New Approach to the Functional Design of a Digital Computer" Proc. western joint computer Conf. ACM (1961).
  • Gray, George. "Some Burroughs Transistor Computers", Unisys History Newsletter, Volume 3, Number 1, March 1999.
  • Gray, George. "Burroughs Third-Generation Computers", Unisys History Newsletter, Volume 3, Number 5, October 1999.
  • Hauck, E.A., Dent, Ben A. "Burroughs B6500/B7500 Stack Mechanism", SJCC (1968) pp. 245–251.
  • Martin, Ian L. (2012) "Too far ahead of its time: Barclays, Burroughs and real-time banking", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 34(2), pp. 5–19. ISSN 1051-6180. (Draft version)
  • Mayer, Alastair J.W., "The Architecture of the Burroughs B5000 - 20 Years Later and Still Ahead of the Times?", ACM Computer Architecture News, 1982 (archived at the Southwest Museum of Engineering, Communications and Computation. Glendale, Arizona)
  • McKeeman, William M. "Language Directed Computer Design", FJCC (1967) pp. 413–417.
  • Organick, Elliot I. "Computer System Organization The B5700/B6700 series", Academic Press (1973)
  • Wilner, Wayne T. "Design of the B1700", FJCC pp. 489–497 (1972).
  • Wilner, Wayne T., "B1700 Design and Implementation", Burroughs Corporation, Santa Barbara Plant, Goleta, California, May 1972.

External links

  • Burroughs Corporation Records Charles Babbage Institute University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Collection contains the records of the Burroughs Corporation, and its predecessors the American Arithmometer Company and Burroughs Adding Machine Company. Materials include corporate records, photographs, films and video tapes, scrapbooks, papers of employees and the records of companies acquired by Burroughs. CBI's Burroughs Corporation Records includes over 100,000 photographs depicting the entire visual history of Burroughs from its origin as the American Arithmometer Corporation in 1886 to its merger with the Sperry Corporation to form the Unisys Corporation in 1986.
  • Burroughs Corporation Photo Database at the Charles Babbage Institute University of Minnesota. The searchable photo database permits browsing and retrieval of over 550 historical images.
  • "Burroughs B 5000 Conference, OH 98", Oral history on 6 September 1985, Marina del Ray, California. Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The Burroughs 5000 computer series is discussed by individuals responsible for its development and marketing from 1957 through the 1960s in a 1985 conference sponsored by AFIPS and Burroughs Corporation.
  • Oral history interview with Isaac Levin Auerbach Charles Babbage Institute University of Minnesota. Auerbach discusses his work at Burroughs 1949–1957 managing development for the SAGE project, BEAM I computer, the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile System, a magnetic core encryption communications system, and Atlas missile.
  • Oral history interview with Robert V. D. Campbell. Discusses his work at Burroughs (1949–1966) as director of research and in program planning.
  • Oral history interview with Alfred Doughty Cavanaugh Cavanaugh discusses the work of his grandfather, A. J. Doughty, with William Seward Burroughs and the Burroughs Adding Machine Company.
  • Oral history interview with Carel Sellenraad Charles Babbage Institute University of Minnesota. Sellenraad describes his long association with Burroughs Adding Machine Company, and the impact of World Wars I & II on the sales and service of calculators, and adding and bookkeeping machines in Europe.
  • Oral history interview with Ovid M. Smith Charles Babbage Institute University of Minnesota. Smith reviews his 46½ year career at Burroughs Adding Machine Company (later Burroughs Corporation).
  • "Early Burroughs Machines", University of Virginia's Computer Museum.
  • Older Burroughs computer manuals online
  • Burroughs computers such as the D825 at BRL
  • An historical Burroughs Adding Machine Company/Burroughs site
  • Unofficial list of Burroughs manufacturing plants and labs
  • Ian Joyner's Burroughs page
  • The Burroughs B5900 and E-Mode: A bridge to 21st Century Computing - Jack Allweiss
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.