ITD a leader in computer technology
Highways department was first in area to introduce mainframe computer

Philo T. Farnsworth.  Even if the name is not familiar, the average American family owes a large part of their daily entertainment to him. His invention, the television, is center stage every evening in most homes. Computers are central to life and work now, too. Life without them is difficult to imagine. Though not quite on a par with Farnsworth, ITD also was a pioneer of sorts.

ITD, or more correctly the Idaho Department of Highways, was the first organization in the Boise area to be computerized, according to the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP). A plaque affixed to the old Statesman building at the southwest corner of Sixth and Main Street attests to that fact. The building was built for the Statesman in 1909, and the Idaho Division of Highways took up residence there in the late ‘50s.

The plaque, placed there last summer by the AITP, commemorates the Idaho Department of Highways as the first organization in Boise with a computer – a UNIVAC 120 from 1957.

The UNIVAC 120, a mainframe computer, was a 1953 release of the modified Remington Rand 409 Computer. The UNIVAC 120 boasted of performing 360,000 addition and subtraction calculations per hour. By contrast, today’s IBM-built Mira, used by the Department of Energy, can do 10 quadrillion calculations – per second.

ITD was nearly the first in the state to use computers, but that honor actually goes to Idaho National Laboratory, which was using computers from the Navy for nuclear research in the early 1950s.

The first 10 computers in Boise
Year Organization
1957 Idaho Department of Highways
1961 Boise Cascade Corporation
1963 Albertsons Inc.
1963 Ore-Ida Foods
1963 Idaho Power
1964 Idaho State Auditor
1964 Mountain States Wholesale
1965 Intermountain Gas
1966 Idaho First National Bank
1967 Boise College (now Boise State University)

Evolution of the “First 10” list
Emerson Maxson, a retired Boise State University professor in Information Technology and Supply Chain Management, stopped by ITD Headquarters early this month. As a member of the group since 1968, Maxson is the historian of the AITP Idaho chapter. Along the way, he’s also worn the hats of president, secretary, international director and CDP (Certified Data Processor) ambassador.

Maxson was heavily involved in the initial efforts to put together the “First 10” list, a research effort that started in 1990 and is ongoing.

“The plaque was an outgrowth of the ‘First 10’ research,” Maxson said.  “We decided to start that activity about 18 months ago, coinciding with the AITP Idaho chapter's 50th anniversary.”
Maxson said the UNIVAC 120 was introduced in the first quarter of 1953, and was named to take advantage of the prominence of the first UNIVAC produced by the Eckert/Mauchly group acquired by Remington Rand in 1950.
More than 1,000 units were produced, with a price tag of nearly $100,000. It was the first computer used by the Internal Revenue Service and the first computer installed in Japan. The first mini computer didn't appear until 1963, and the micro-computer wasn't available until 1974.

Published 3-4-2011