1952: When CBS Debuted the First Number-Crunching Computer on Election Night

By Mark Joyella 

In the whiz-bang world of Magic Walls and holographic (or rather tomographic) teleportations, it’s worth looking back at Election Night 1952, when CBS introduced a computer to most of America that had never seen one.

“This is not a joke, or a trick,” said CBS News correspondent Charles Collingwood, sitting beside the “Univac Electronic Computer,” which was huge, covered in blinking lights, and essentially a mock-up of the real computer, which was processing election returns in Philadelphia. “It’s an experiment, and we think it’s going to work.”

And it did, making an early prediction that Dwight D. Eisenhower would defeat Adlai Stevenson–only problem was that the executives at Remington Rand, the company that built the computer, weren’t confident enough to recommend reporting the computer’s prediction. “We should’ve had nerve enough to believe the machine in the first place,” an executive from the company explained on CBS after midnight. “It was right, we were wrong.” Eisenhower went on to win with 442 electoral votes to Stevenson’s 89. Not even close.