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Issue No.03 - July-September (1997 vol.19)
pp: 60-73
ABSTRACT
<p><it>This paper studies how a representative of one commercial user industry, life insurance, interacted with key players in the newly forming computer industry after World War II but before any computers were sold for commercial purposes. In particular, it shows how Prudential's early computer expert and proselytizer, Edmund Callis Berkeley, viewed computer technology and its potential uses in life insurance, as well as the ways in which he influenced its development. Immediately after the war, Berkeley set out to educate his superiors at Prudential and the life insurance industry as a whole about the potential uses of computers for insurance; at the same time, he communicated that industry's needs, especially in the areas of rapid input-output and verification, to potential computer vendors. His internal efforts culminated in the contract Prudential signed for a Univac computer. Although the contract was ultimately broken, Berkeley's efforts appear to have influenced J. Presper Eckert, Jr., and John Mauchly in their development of the technology. Berkeley's activities in the 1940s reveal that interaction between vendors and representatives of potential commercial users was earlier and more intense than historical accounts of computing generally recognize and that users may exert a powerful influence on the development of technology.</it></p>
CITATION
Joanne Yates, "Early Interactions Between the Life Insurance and Computer Industries: The Prudential's Edmund C. Berkeley", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.19, no. 3, pp. 60-73, July-September 1997, doi:10.1109/85.601736
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23. B.E. Olmstead, "Prudential's Early Experience With Computers," Prudential internal typescript, Feb.1 1978, p. 3.
24. P. Hennessy, "Edmund C. Berkeley Papers," archival finding aid, Charles Babbage Inst., Minneapolis, Minn., 1990.
25. E.C. Berkeley to H.J. Volk, May26 1941, Berkeley Coll. 3: 34, CBI.
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27. E.C. Berkeley, "Application of Symbolic Logic to Punch Card Tabulation in Insurance Company Problems," Paper submitted to the Record of the Amer. Inst. Actuaries, May 1942, Berkeley Coll. 3: 33, CBI.
28. E.C. Berkeley, "Application of Symbolic Logic," Report no. 8, Dec.5 1941, Berkeley Coll. 3: 33, CBI.
29. E.C. Berkeley to H.J. Volk, Dec.28 1941, "Application of Modern Mathematics to Insurance Company Problems," Symp. Numerical Computational Devices, 28 Dec. 1941, Report no. 2, 26 Jan. 1942, Berkeley Coll. 3: 35, CBI.
30. E.C. Berkeley to H.J. Volk, Feb.4 1942, Berkeley Coll. 3: 32, CBI.
31. E.C. Berkeley to H.J. Volk, Feb.9 1942, Berkeley Coll. 3: 35, CBI.
32. A.G. Bromley, "Analog Computing Devices," W. Aspray, ed., Computing Before Computers.Ames: Iowa State Univ. Press, 1990, pp. 156-185, especially p. 178.
33. E.C. Berkeley to H.J. Volk, Nov.10 1941, Berkeley Coll. 3: 34, CBI.
34. E.C. Berkeley to H.J. Volk, E.F. Cooley, and L.I. Ferguson, Nov.30 1942, Berkeley Coll. 3: 32, CBI.
35. E.C. Berkeley to H.J. Volk, C.B. Laing, and E.F. Cooley, Jan.13 1947, Berkeley Coll. 8: 52, CBI.
36. E.C. Berkeley to H.J. Volk, C.B. Laing, and E.F. Cooley, Sept.17 1946, Berkeley Coll. 8: 52, CBI.
37. E.C. Berkeley to H.J. Volk, C.B. Laing, and E.F. Cooley, Sept.30 1946, in Accession 1825, Unisys Records, Box 83, courtesy of Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, Del. [hereafter Unisys 83, Hagley].
38. E.C. Berkeley to E.F. Cooley, Jan.6 1947, Berkeley Coll. 3:51, CBI.
39. E.C. Berkeley to H.J. Volk, C.B. Laing, E.F. Cooley, Jan.28 1947, Berkeley Coll. 8:53, CBI.
40. E.C. Berkeley to H.J. Volk, Nov.5 1946, Unisys 78, Hagley.
41. As this and other Berkeley documents in the CBI's Berkeley Collection show, he was thinking in terms of a general-purpose, relatively high-speed central processor, not as Stern [1] has argued, only of high-speed input and output equipment.
42. E.C. Berkeley to H.J. Volk, C.B. Laing, E.F. Cooley, "New Machinery to Handle Information—Path of Development. Report no. 2: Finding and Studying Applications," Feb.17 1947, Berkeley Coll. 8:53, CBI.
43. Berkeley's reports from this period did not even mention the recomputation of life experience tables due to changes in the Guertin Law, the application that, according to Stern [1], drove Prudential's investigation into computers.
44. H.T. Engstrom to Prudential Insurance Company of American (attn. Berkeley), Jan.21 1947, Berkeley Coll. 8:53, CBI.
45. E.C. Berkeley to H.J. Volk, C.B. Laing, and E.F. Cooley, Feb.7 1947, Berkeley Coll. 8:53, CBI.
46. E.C. Berkeley to H.J. Volk, C.B. Laing, and E.F. Cooley, Feb.18 1947, "New Machinery to Handle Information—Path of Development, Report no. 3: Paying the Cost of Development," Berkeley Coll. 8:53, CBI.
47. Raytheon Manufacturing Company, "Proposal for an Automatic Digital Calculator for the Prudential Insurance Company," Mar.31 1947, Berkeley Coll. 8:54, CBI.
48. Berkeley to H.J. Volk, C.B. Laing, and E.F. Cooley, Symp. Large Scale Digital Calculating Machinery, Jan.13 1947, Harvard Computation Laboratory, Cambridge, Mass., 7-10 Jan. 1947, Berkeley Coll. 8:52, CBI.
49. In a 13 Mar. 1947 letter, J.W. Mauchly to E.C. Berkeley, [in Unisys 48, Hagley], Mauchly refers to Berkeley's "three memoranda" dated 13 Jan., 28 Jan., and 27 Feb. The two men may have met even before this point, but the correspondence makes clear that they certainly interacted at this symposium.
50. Electronic Control Company, "Proposal for the Construction of a Group of Electronic Sequence Controlled Calculators," Feb.18 1947, Berkeley Coll. 8:53, CBI.
51. A.L. Norberg, "New Engineering Companies and the Evolution of the United States Computer Industry," Business and Economic History, vol. 22, no. 1, p. 186, Fall 1993.
52. E.g., J.W. Mauchly to E.C. Berkeley, Feb.26 1947, Berkeley Coll. 8:53, CBI.
53. Berkeley to F.B. Gerhard, C.B. Laing, R.W. Cobb, and E.F. Cooley, May24 1947, Berkeley Coll. 8:55, CBI.
54. "Application of High Speed Computing Machines to Certain Problems of the Prudential Life Insurance Company," Electronic Control Company, May16 1947, Unisys 48, Hagley.
55. While Prudential used a great deal of IBM punched card equipment by this time, its premium billing operation was not yet handled by such equipment [23, pp. 7-9], perhaps in part because the Gore sorters had delayed Prudential's adoption of IBM tabulating equipment.
56. Oral history interview with E. Kelley of IBM Marketing, conducted by J. Yates and B. Hancke, Aug.6 1993.
57. E.C. Berkeley to F.B. Gerhard, C.B. Laing, R.W. Cobb, and E.F. Cooley, May24 1947, Berkeley Coll. 8:55, CBI.
58. According to Olmstead's [23, p. 11] account, even when Thomas Watson, Jr., met with Prudential's top management a few years later to tell them that "IBM would be developing electronic computers," IBM "made [it] clear that, unlike Eckert-Mauchly, IBM would not be interested in Prudential's suggestions for desired characteristics of the equipment."
59. E.C. Berkeley, "List of Some Questions for Discussion at Meeting Called for May 14, 1947 ... in Mr. F.B. Gerhard's Office," May13 1947, Berkeley Coll. 8:55, CBI.
60. His estimates that Electronic Control Company and others would develop commercially available machines more quickly were optimistic, however. It was, in fact, at least that long before any computers were available for other than government or university use.
61. The 1956 program for the Electronics Session of the Proceedings of the Insurance Accounting and Statistical Association provides a clear picture of the 650's immediate popularity in the industry: It contains two papers on Univac applications and 17 on 650 applications.
62. T.J. Watson, Jr. and P. Petre, Father, Son and Co.: My Life at IBM and Beyond.New York: Bantam Books, 1990, p. 297.
63. E.C. Berkeley to J.W. Mauchly, and J.P. Eckert, July8 1947, Unisys 79, Hagley.
64. M. Campbell-Kelly and W. Aspray, Computer: A History of the Information Machine, Basic Books, New York, 1996, p. 117.
65. J.W. Mauchly and J.P. Eckert, Jr. to the Prudential Insurance Company, Aug.4 1947,, in Unisys 80, Hagley, and Berkeley Coll. 3:56, CBI.
66. "Report to Prudential Insurance Company of America on the Possibility of Constructing High-Speed Card-to-Tape Converters," Mar.12 1948, Unisys 81, Hagley.
67. E.C. Berkeley to F.B. Gerhard, C.B. Laing, R.W. Cobb, and E.F. Cooley, July10 1947, Berkeley Coll. 3:56, CBI.
68. E.C. May and W. Oursler, The Prudential; a Story of Human Security.Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1950, p. 309.
69. Berkeley, "Electronic Machinery for Handling Information—Policy Discussion," May13 1947, Berkeley Coll. 8:55, CBI.
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74. An undated draft of this purchase agreement may be found in Unisys 78, Hagley. Stern [1, p. 286] states that it was signed on 8 Dec. 1948, but the internal report by Olmstead [23] says Prudential's Executive Committee approved the contract on 28 Nov.
75. Berkeley had been working on a Prudential "hazards project" that identified nuclear war as one of the greatest threats to mankind. When Prudential abandoned the project and told Berkeley he could no longer work on it, even on his own time, Berkeley felt it was his moral imperative to oppose nuclear war, so he left the firm to do so. P. Hennessy, "Edmund C. Berkeley Papers," (archival finding aid), Charles Babbage Inst., Univ. Minnesota, Minneapolis, 1990.
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79. T.J. Watson, Jr. and P. Petre, Father, Son and Co.: My Life at IBM and Beyond.New York: Bantam Books, 1990, p. 297.
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