Burroughs Corporation

Burroughs Corporation
Industry Hardware
Founded 1886
Headquarters St. Louis, Missouri
Key people
William Seward Burroughs I
Website www.burroughs.com//

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. It was one of the largest producers of mainframe computers in the world, also producing related equipment 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 was soon 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 provided a moveable carriage, and the P600 and top-of-the-range P612 offered 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 1960s, 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, E2000, E3000, E4000, E6000 and the E8000, which were computer systems supporting 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 (e.g. 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 in the 1960s, with IBM the largest, Honeywell, NCR Corporation, Control Data Corporation (CDC), General Electric (GE), Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), RCA and Sperry Rand (UNIVAC line). In terms of sales, Burroughs was always a distant second to IBM. In fact, IBM's market share 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:


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]

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. 1 2 Sawyer, T.J., "Burroughs 205 HomePage"
  2. Dvorak, John C. (2006-11-25). "IBM and the Seven Dwarfs — Dwarf One: Burroughs". Dvorak Uncensored. 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. Anderson, J. P.; Hoffman, S. A.; Shifman, J.; Williams, R. J. (1962). "D825 - a multiple-computer system for command & control". Proceedings of the December 4-6, 1962, fall joint computer conference on - AFIPS '62 (Fall). p. 86. doi:10.1145/1461518.1461527.
  8. Enslow, Philip H., Jr. (1977). "Multiprocessor Organization—A Survey". Computing Surveys. 9 (1): 103–129. doi:10.1145/356683.356688.
  9. "Burroughs Display Systems", Defense and Space Group Marketing Division, Paoli, Pennsylvania, 1965
  10. 1 2 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. "Unisys Awarded Contract to Support IRS Mission-Critical Computing Systems". Unisys. 2013-02-19. Retrieved 2013-03-11. BLUE BELL, Pa., February 19, 2013 - Unisys Corporation (NYSE: UIS) announced today that it has been awarded the Enterprise Computing Center Support (ECCS) contract from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) [...] Under this single-award indefinite delivery-indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract, the IRS can award Unisys task orders to provide support and maintenance services for the IRS computing environment, including Unisys ClearPath Dorado servers.
  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.
  15. "B205 On Screen"

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