Columbia University Computing History
The Columbia Difference Tabulator  1931
Photo: [103].
Rear view; see below for font view.
In 1930, Columbia Professor Ben Wood, who had
begun Columbia's halfcentury long special relationship with IBM in 192829
when he founded the Columbia Statistical
Bureau with a large grant of standard late1920s punchedcard machines
from Thomas J. Watson, approached Watson again
with a request for a machine more suited to the needs of statistics than
business. Watson obliged, and had engineers James Bryce and George Daly in
IBM's Endicott plant build a gigantic tabulator capable of accumulating sums
of squares, raising numbers to powers, and so forth by means of
direct subtraction (the first punchedcard machine to do this) plus
a novel system of ten paired accumulators.


The new machine "massproduced the sums of products by the method of
progressive digiting and read punch cards at the rate of 150 per minute. It
contained ten 10position counters (left,
Photo: [103]; click to enlarge)
with provision for shifting totals
internally from one counter to another – a capability that anticipated
a future function of computers." [9]. The new machine, variously called the
"Columbia Machine", the "Statistical Calculator", the "Difference
Tabulator", and (because of its massive size) the
"Packard",
was delivered and installed in 1931.

Allan Olley reports (November 2013) that this machine still exists. It's in
the "basement"
(not available for viewing) of the "nation's attic",
the Smithsonian Instition; here's a modern photo:
CLICK
HERE to see the Smithsonian page for this machine.
Reference [
103] shows a truncated
clipping from a
New York World article supposedly dated "March
1, 1920" (which is obviously a mistake, since it refers to the Statistical
Bureau in Hamilton Hall, which did not exist until 1929) called "SUPER
COMPUTING MACHINES SHOWN":


New
statistical machines with the mental power of 100 skilled mathematicians in
solving even highly complex algebraic problems were demonstrated yesterday
for the first time before a group of psychologists, educational research
workers and statisticians in the laboratories of the Columbia University
Statistical Bureau in Hamilton Hall.
One of the tabulators exhibited can work out and print the results of as
many as twelve difficult problems in just a single rapid operation. It is
designed to handle differences and reckon powers of numbers up to the tenth,
whereas such machines hiterto [sic] have been able to compute only the
second power of numbers.
Richard Warren and Robert M. Mendenhall, research workers at Columbia and
statistical consultants for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of
Teaching, are responsible for most of the inventions which were first
announced at the educator's convention in Atlantic City last week.
These new machines will be a tremendous boon to research, Dr. Ben. D. Wood,
Director of the Statistical Bureau, said yesterday, through making
statistical procedure more accurate, much faster and less expensive.
With the assistance of the new tabu

(The clipping breaks off here.) I can't imagine what they are
talking about, unless it's the Columbia Difference Tabulator or a prototype
of it.
References:
 Bashe, Charles J.; Lyle R. Johnson; John H. Palmer; Emerson
W. Pugh,
IBM's Early Computers, MIT Press (1985).
 Brennan, Jean Ford,
The IBM Watson
Laboratory at Columbia University: A History, IBM, Armonk NY (1971)
 Eames, Charles and Ray, A Computer Perspective:
Background to the Computer Age, Harvard University Press.
First Edition 1973;
Second Edition 1990 [103].
 Pugh, Emerson W.,
Building IBM: Shaping an Industry and its
Technology, The MIT Press (1995).
Links:
Last Updated:
Fri Nov 8 14:35:58 2013
Frank da Cruz / fdc@columbia.edu /
Columbia University Computing History