The Earliest Picture with a Computer I’ve Found So Far, plus an update

At least, I think it’s some kind of computer. The label on the photo says “1950 IBM Business Show, Houston, Texas.” Whatever it is, it seemed to catch the attention of President Houston (facing the camera). There’s a pretty thick file in his papers called “IBM machine,” although I haven’t had time to look at it yet.

Bessie Smith Update: I ran across this on Friday while looking through the 1919-20 Threshers. After re-reading a bunch of Campaniles, I’ve come to understand that Bessie Smith took many of the images that we have in the archives from the late teens and early twenties.

Bonus: I’ve seen an unusually large number of rabbits on campus recently. I hope they’re not up to something.


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16 Responses to The Earliest Picture with a Computer I’ve Found So Far, plus an update

  1. wunderwood says:

    The sign identifies that as a Card-Programmed Electronic Calculator, but my eye is drawn to the THINK sign at the top and the ashtray beside the machine.

    The CPC was first shown in 1949 and was sold through the mid-50’s.

    If you want a lot more information, look for the book “IBM’s Early Computers” (, I expect Fondren has a copy.

  2. James Medford says:

    I’m intrigued by the “Think” sign on the wall near President Houston. “Oh, I was going to go about today’s business without using my powers of reason, but that sign has reminded me to use the left side of my brain!”

  3. Karl Benson says:

    Well, not exactly a computer. As the display sign says, it’s an IBM Card-Programmed Electronic Calculator. It could not perform “if/goto” functions, and was not, therefore, technically a computer. See and

  4. mattnoall says:

    If you look closely this Is marked as a calculator. Actually the founder of IBM never believed the future lay with “computers”. (hence the famous Watson remark about the world market for them). Rather he believed in calculators and collators. Well, nobody is perfect

    By our terms this is a “computer” but I’m sure that every freshman has more computing power in any pocket than this thing

  5. almadenmike says:

    In the early days, “computer” was a job description, not a machine. It referred to people (usually young women) who performed calculations by hand.

    From IBM’s online archives, here is the description of the “Card-Sorted Electronic Calculator” :

    (BTW, IBM celebrated its centennial last year: )

  6. Gene says:

    A quick google search on “Card-Programmed Electronic Calculator” turned up the following:
    The timing is right – the article mentions it was brought to market in 1949.

    Based on the description, this would fall into the category of electro-mechanical computer, but definitely a computer none-the-less.

  7. Don Johnson says:

    Just a historical note to put the IBM electronic calculator/computer into perspective. This first publicly shown electronic computer was the ENIAC at UPenn in 1946, just 3-4 years before the picture was taken. So, the depicted event was very early in modern computer history and IBM had LOTS of competitors at the time. Hence the roadshow.

  8. Gaylon Kent says:

    I was hoping for some posts on the rabbits…oh well…

  9. Keith Cooper says:

    Leaving the computational questions to others, the rabbit sightings are becoming more common. They are now quite common during summer months- for example, a number live in the hedges in the quad and can be seen almost any late summer afternoon. we have recently seen them in the Baker quad and over by the new power plant.

    They may have gotten their foothold during the construction of Duncan Hall. Building materials were stored in a lot where McMurtry College now sits, and the grass got quite long. When we went to close up that end of the building, it took several days to evict (humanely) the rabbits from the interior.

    At the 2011 commencement, one rabbit walked down the centeraisle, only to discover that it s path back to thebhedge was blocked, on both sides by students. It hopped, sadly and comically back and forth until it reached the vacant aisle behind the faculty guest seats, and then dashed into the hedges. Not many folks appeared
    noticed, but several of the graduate degree recipients seemed truly amused.

  10. Richard A. Schafer says:

    Any idea what Bessie Smith went on to do after leaving Rice?

  11. marmer01 says:

    We occasionally see rabbits out by Alice Pratt Brown, too. They live in the landscaping. I once saw a really cute baby one on the front steps. Good thing there weren’t any owls around!

  12. Kathy says:

    I first saw a little rabbit several years ago at the foot of the steps leading into Lovette Hall entrance C. It was standing on its haunches looking up toward the door. I imagine the rabbits had to scatter when the quad hedges were cut down. Probably, with the regrowth of them there is more protection, so we’re seeing more of them about. By the way, I wonder if the cutting down(pruning) of the quad hedges has any place in Rice’s history of notable occasions. It seemed fairly traumatic at the time…6-7 years ago, I think.

    • Keith Cooper says:

      Rice has changed the hedges a number of times during its history. The current configuration was planted sometime in the early 1980s. It serves a functional purpose — it frees up seating for the large academic events held in the quad — but I have no idea if that was the actual thought process that prompted the change.

      The first big event held in the quad in modern history was the investiture of George Rupp (October 1985) followed by Commencement in May 1986. Those events give us an upper bound of when the “maze of hedges” gave way to the current arrangement.

      • Deborah Gronke Bennett says:

        The last quad remodel that Keith mentions started in the spring of 1982′ and was completed before commencement in that year (which was when I graduated with my BSEE). I remember visiting a professor whose office was upstairs in Fondren and overlooked the quad. It was the day they mowed the old hedges down. It was a bleak sight.

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