First Business Computer
Until the early 1940s the only computers in existence were one-of-a-kind used by the government and the military. In 1943, a middle-aged engineer named Loring P. Crosman approached James Rand, founder, chairman, and president of Remington Rand, with a plan to build an electronic computer. Rand agreed to take on the project, and a group of engineers was installed in the carriage house at 33 Highland Avenue, affectionately known as “The Barn” to those who worked there, formerly the stables of the Farrell estate.
Retired Army Gen. Leslie R. Groves, who had used a two-team competitive approach in the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb during World War II, did the same in developing the 409 after joining Remington Rand following the war. One team led by Crosman worked in what is now the Rowayton Library section of the building, while another team directed by Joseph A. Brustman occupied what is now the Community Center portion of the building, the former stable.
The development of this new computer was kept under wraps for fear of other companies and universities getting wind of it. In 1951, the Model 409 prototype was unveiled to a gathering of military and government officials in the barn. In 1952, the company shipped its first business computer to the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS loved it and ordered two more. The 409 was the first electromechanical computer of stand alone, modular design that allowed replacement of parts in modules.
After the unveiling of the 409 engineers were transferred back to the main research and development plant at 333 Wilson Avenue in South Norwalk where the manufacturing phase was begun. No engineers would work in the barn again until 1961 when they began designing the Univac 1004. The 1004 combined reading, processing and printing in one highspeed unit that was so efficient that several thousand units were sold worldwide.
Remington Rand put the property up for sale in 1965, and although it now houses the Rowayton Library and Community Center, it will always be known as the birthplace of the world’s first business computer.
Partially adapted from the article “The Engineers Get Together to Look Back at the Future” by Francis X. Fay in The Norwalk Hour October 25, 1996