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Burroughs Corporation Records, 1880-1998. Finding Aid.

Summary Information
Title: Burroughs Corporation records
Dates: 1880-1998
Creator: Burroughs Corporation
Extent: 681 boxes, 46 trays (approximately 450 cubic feet)
Language: English
Collection Number: CBI 90
The collection contains the records of the Burroughs Corporation, and its predecessors the American Arithmometer Company and Burroughs Adding Machine Company. Materials include corporate records, photographs, films and video tapes, scrapbooks, papers of employees and records of companies acquired by Burroughs.

Repository: University of Minnesota Libraries. Charles Babbage Institute.

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

The records were given to the Charles Babbage Institute by Unisys Corporation in 1991.

Access Restrictions:

Access to the collection is unrestricted.


The Charles Babbage Institute holds the copyright to all materials in the collection, except for items covered by a prior copyright (such as published materials). Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provisions of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code).

Preferred Citation:

Burroughs Corporation Records (CBI 90), Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


The Burroughs Corporation Records are arranged into 111 series. Please see the finding aid for each series for a box and folder list.

Historical Note of Burroughs Corporation

The Burroughs Corporation began in 1886 as the American Arithmometer Company. It was formed with the intent of selling the adding machine invented by William Seward Burroughs. The company started in St. Louis, Missouri where Burroughs was living at the time. The company moved its entire operations to Detroit, Michigan in 1904.

By 1905 the company had settled in Detroit and the name was changed to the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, in honor of William S. Burroughs who had died in 1898. Operations resumed almost immediately, and for about the next fifty years, Burroughs grew into the biggest adding machine company in the United States. It introduced many different products, including many variations of the basic adding machine, typewriters, check protectors, ticketeers, and finally, computers.

In 1953 the Burroughs Adding Machine Company was renamed the Burroughs Corporation, a name more reflective of their broad scope of products. They still had a strong market in adding and calculating machines, especially at banks and similar institutions. However, they were also moving into the computer field about this time. Their experience with the military during WWII also steered them toward the computer field, and they worked with the government on numerous contracts after the end of the war.

As Burroughs Corporation concentrated more and more on computers, they still marketed toward their prime customers, banking institutions. However, as time passed, their mainframes and other computers were given a greater market. IBM, of course, was far ahead of Burroughs in terms of sales and revenues, but Burroughs was often the next competitor behind them.

In September 1986, Burroughs Corporation and Sperry Corporation completed a merger that had been started over a year before. W. Michael Blumenthal, president of Burroughs Corporation, and Joseph J. Kroger, president of Sperry Corporation, became Chairman/CEO and Vice-Chairman, respectively, of the new company -- Unisys Corporation. The merger, which was actually an acquisition of Sperry by Burroughs for $4.8 billion, put Unisys into second place in the computer market in 1986, with revenues of about $10.5 billion. This was the largest merger in the computer industry's history, and although impressive, Unisys was still only about 1/5 the size of IBM. A period of reorganization followed the merger, with the closing of some facilities, combining of similar departments in Burroughs and Sperry, and the divestment of non-computer-related businesses.

William Seward Burroughs, inventor of an adding machine and a founder of the American Arithmometer Company (which was renamed in his honor in 1905), was born in rural New York, although the date of Burroughs' birth has been hard to establish, it was between 1855 and 1858. He became a bank clerk at the Cayuga County National Bank in Auburn, New York in the 1870s, but eventually moved to St. Louis for health reasons.

It was here, in the early 1880s, in a small area of the Boyer Machine Company shop, that he started working on the bank clerk's dream--the adding machine. After several years, he applied for a patent, eventually granted in 1888. The earliest machines were great prototypes, but when in the hands of inexperienced users would give outrageous answers. Burroughs answered the challenge by designing (in a few days), the "dash pot," a mechanism that regulated the pull on the adding machine's handle.

The next challenge was to convince banks and businesses that they needed this new machine, surprisingly not an easy thing to do. With a few salesmen who doubled as the service department, the American Arithmometer Company set out to add a new machine into the "modern-day" offices at the end of the nineteenth century. William Seward Burroughs only glimpsed the beginning of the office automation phenomenon, for he died, in Citronelle, Alabama, in 1898.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The collection contains the records of the Burroughs Corporation, and its predecessors the American Arithmometer Company and Burroughs Adding Machine Company. Materials include corporate records, photographs, films and video tapes, scrap books, papers of employees and records of companies acquired by Burroughs during the companies tenure in the adding machine and computer industry, such as the System Development Corporation, Charles R. Hadley Company, Control Instrument Company, ElectroData and Todd Company.

Related Material

The Burroughs Corporation Records includes over 100,000 photographs depicting the entire visual history of Burroughs from its origin as the American Arithmometer Corporation in 1886 to its merger with the Sperry Corporation to form the Unisys Corporation in 1986. 550 of these photographs have been scanned and stored in the Burroughs Image Database. The database can be searched by subject keywords, names, places, dates or historical period. This project is part of the University of Minnesota's IMAGES union database.

The corporate records of the Sperry Corporation were donated by the Unisys Corporation to the Hagley Museum and Library, in Wilmington, Delaware.

Subject Terms
Index Terms
  • This collection is indexed under the following headings in the catalog of the University of Minnesota Libraries. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons or places should search the catalog using these headings.
  • Burroughs, William Seward, 1858?-1898,
  • Acme Carbon and Ribbon Company.
  • American Arithmometer Company.
  • Balbik Systems, Ltd.
  • Burroughs Adding Machine Company.
  • Burroughs Corporation.
  • Charles R. Hadley Company.
  • Control Instrument Company.
  • ElectroData (Firm)
  • Haydu Brothers.
  • Mittag & Verlag, inc.
  • Moon-Hopkins Billing Machine Company.
  • Pike Adding Machine Company.
  • Seytec (Firm)
  • System Development Corporation.
  • Todd Company.
  • Universal Adding Machine Company.
  • Accounting machines.
  • Banks and banking -- Automation.
  • Bookkeeping machines.
  • Calculators.
  • Computer industry.
  • Computer industry -- History.
  • Computers.
  • Computers -- History.
  • Computers -- Research.
  • Industries -- Michigan -- Detroit.
  • Office equipment and supplies industry.
  • Business records.
  • Motion pictures.
  • Photographs.
  • Video recordings.