Burroughs Corporation

The Burroughs Corporation began in 1886 as the American Arithmometer Company in St. Louis, Missouri selling an adding machine invented by William Seward Burroughs.

The company moved to Detroit in 1904 and changed its name to the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, in honor of Burroughs, who died in 1898. Burroughs grew into the biggest adding machine company in America, although by the 1950s it was selling more than the basic adding machines, including typewriters and computers.

The Company developed a range of adding machines with different capabilities and created the office accounting machine range that began with the Sensimatic, which 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 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 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 the purchase in June 1956, of The ElectroData Corporation in Pasadena, California, originally a division of Consolidated Electrodynamics Corporation, but which had been spun off. ElectroData had built the Datatron 205 and was working on the Datatron 220. The first major computer product that came from this marriage was the B205 Tube computer.

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 "main-frame" class machines:

  • The Burroughs large systems machines starting with the B5000 in 1961 were 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) almost a decade before Unix, and the command interface developed into a compiled structured language with procedures called WFL (Work Flow Language). The designation for these systems was B5000-79xx, followed by A-Series.
  • Burroughs produced the B2000 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 the B2000-49xx followed by P-Series.
  • 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 application 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 cheque processing equipment.
  • In the early 1980s Burroughs began producing personal computers, the B20 and B25 lines. 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.
  • Burroughs financed early work on Wafer-scale integration, but abandoned this at about the time of the merger with Sperry Ivor Catt attempted to continue this in conjunction with Sir Clive Sinclair, its ultimate demise was caused by reduction in conventional chip prices.

Burroughs also made military computers, such as the D825, in its Great Valley Laboratory in Paoli, Pennsylvania. The D825 was, according to some scholars, the first true multiprocessor computer.

Burroughs Corporation was always a distant second to IBM commercially if not technologically. At the same time, Burroughs was very much a competitor and just like IBM, Burroughs tried to supply a complete answer for its customers. This included providing Burroughs-designed printers, disk drives, tape drives, etc., computer paper, and even typewriter ribbons.

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. 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."

Later, this group became known as the BUNCH - (Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR Corporation, Control Data Corporation, and Honeywell)

In September 1986, Burroughs Corporation merged with Sperry Corporation to form Unisys.

References in popular culture



  • 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.
  • 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).

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