digplanet beta 1: Athena
Share digplanet:


Applied sciences






















Burroughs Corporation
Industry Hardware
Founded 1886
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. It was one of the largest producers of mainframe computers in the world, also producing related equipment including typewriters and printers.

Early history[edit]

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[edit]

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 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 (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[edit]

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[edit]

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 Trans World Airlines (TWA) ordered one in September 1965. A system with three instruction processors was installed at TWA's reservations center in Rockleigh, New Jersey in 1968. The system, which was called George, with an application programmed in 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[edit]

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[edit]

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. ^ 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. ^ 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. ^ "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. "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[edit]

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burroughs_Corporation — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.
1445 videos foundNext > 

Burroughs Adding Machine History

The Power to Serve is the PR film chronicling the Detroit based, Burroughs company that invented the modern adding machine. Burroughs was one of the ...

Donald Knuth - Burroughs Corporation (29/97)

Visit http://www.webofstories.com/people/donald.knuth for more Donald Knuth's inspiring thoughts and life stories. Donald Knuth (b. 1938), American computing ...

Donald Knuth - Writing a compiler for the Burroughs Corporation (27/97)

Visit http://www.webofstories.com/people/donald.knuth for more Donald Knuth's inspiring thoughts and life stories. Donald Knuth (b. 1938), American computing ...

Donald Knuth - Working for the Burroughs Corporation (28/97)

TRANSCRIPT: I got to Caltech as a student… a grad student in mathematics. Again I was scared stiff that I wouldn't be able to succeed, because the students at ...

Burroughs B6500 Status Report

A film by Burroughs Corporation circa March 1969 outlining the status of their project to develop a new family of large scale systems, the B6500. This system was ...

Computer Classic: "System Technology" circa 1960 System Development Corporation

more at http://computers.quickfound.net/ "On the development of an early warning aircraft simulation system. Excellent footage of computers and data processing ...

Vigilance and Vacuum Tubes: The Sage System, 1956-1963

Recorded: Tuesday, May 19, 1998 Posted: Aug 27, 2013 Location: The Computer Museum History Center, Building 126, Moffett Field, Mountain View, CA In ...

Designing the ASICS Jordan Burroughs Elite Wrestling Shoe

Elite ASICS wrestler Jordan Burroughs recently worked with our product development team to design his perfect wrestling shoe: the all-new ASICS Jordan ...


Produced by the Burroughs Corporation in 1956, "Bombproof" is a fascinating Civil Defense film with something of a hidden agenda -- in that it shows the ...

A Day In the Life of Jordan Burroughs

ASICS elite wrestler Jordan Burroughs is more than just a powerhouse in the wrestling ring - he's a devoted husband, a homeowner, and most recently, a first ...

1445 videos foundNext > 

146 news items

Tiffin Advertiser Tribune

Tiffin Advertiser Tribune
Wed, 20 Apr 2016 21:30:00 -0700

He was a graduate of Tiffin University and had a successful career in sales with Burroughs Corporation/Unisys Corp. Robert was a member of St. Marks Catholic Church in Wilmington and a member of the Elks Club. He enjoyed many leisure activities ...

Martinsville Daily

Martinsville Daily
Sun, 20 Mar 2016 09:30:00 -0700

She worked for the Burroughs Corporation for a time before returning to West Virginia where she also graduated from McLain's Business College in Bluefield, WV. After. Phyllis was a graduate of Big Creek High School in War, WV and of Burroughs Business ...

Breitbart News

Breitbart News
Mon, 15 Feb 2016 14:15:39 -0800

HANAHAN, South Carolina — 2016 GOP presidential frontrunner Donald J. Trump tells reporters here that his pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee is now void because the Republican National Committee, along with local and state GOP factions, ...


Tue, 23 Feb 2016 07:04:26 -0800

Unisys traces its roots back to the founding of American Arithmometer Company (later Burroughs Corporation) in 1886 and the Sperry Gyroscope Company in 1910. Unisys predecessor companies also include the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation, ...


Wed, 09 Mar 2016 01:47:02 -0800

... experience in the business development, sales and consulting fields and previously held leadership roles at L-3 Communications (NYSE: LLL), Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), Keane Federal Systems, Robbins Gioia, Wang Laboratories and Burroughs Corporation.

Billings Gazette

Billings Gazette
Sun, 17 Jan 2016 07:03:22 -0800

He worked for the Burroughs Corporation for 26 years until joining First Interstate Bank in 1982. He was the vice president and data processing division manager until retiring in 1992. Their son and daughter-in-law are Brian and Mary Larsen, of Denver.

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
Sat, 09 Jan 2016 21:25:05 -0800

And my dad worked for Burroughs Corporation, which later became Unisys, which was similar to IBM, except that they did bank, computers and check-writing machines and those kinds of things. So he traveled all over the state of Georgia and helped install ...

The News-Press

The News-Press
Fri, 18 Dec 2015 14:16:20 -0800

Frank had learned when he retired in 1987 after successful business careers at Burroughs Corporation in Boston and Moore Business System in Dallas, that he couldn't survive on a round of golf, lunch and a nap. “I decided there was something else in ...

Oops, we seem to be having trouble contacting Twitter

Support Wikipedia

A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia. Please add your support for Wikipedia!

Searchlight Group

Digplanet also receives support from Searchlight Group. Visit Searchlight