dark mode light mode Search Menu

Evelyn’s Excellent Invention

Computer History Museum

One thing that unites all of us who write articles, school papers, books, and more, is the use of some type of word processor application or software. It’s hard to imagine that this wasn’t available until the very late 1960s and didn’t find its way into schools and homes until decades later.

Did you know, however, that the first computer-based word processor was imagined and created in 1969 by Evelyn Berezin. Born in New York in 1925, Evelyn went to university at 26 years old to study Economics. After World War II, she won a scholarship to New York University to get a degree in Physics. During this period, she also worked in a research department at the International Printing Company.

Leaps in Logic

In the early 1950s, she was hired by Electronic Computer Corporation to work on logic design, which is using combinations of “logic gates” or systems that receive inputs of 1’s and 0’s and have a set output dependent on the type of gate. These logic designs and logic gates are still fundamental to modern computing. It’s amazing to think that, at this time, Evelyn was the only person in the company doing this work.

While there, she designed numerous computers including some for the military. One machine, in particular, was used to control the distribution of magazines, now considered the first-ever office computer. Evelyn went on to work for Teleregister where she designed and built computers to be used for airline reservations and financial and banking services.

In the late ’50s, technology— the transistor, in particular—was developing quickly enabling more complex computing systems to be built. Transistors are essentially switches that can be combined to create the logic gates we mentioned earlier. They were much smaller than vacuum tubes (the preceding technology) with hundreds of transistors fitting into the same amount of space as just two vacuum tubes. Transistors also were faster and more rugged than their predecessors so this really marked a change in the pace of computer development.

Data Secretary

In 1968 Evelyn had the idea for a word-processing computer that could simplify and support the work of secretaries. Feeling limited by working for others, she set up her own company in 1969. The Redactron Corporation made computer systems in the thousands which were deployed all over the world. The word processing computer, called the “Data Secretary”, was the company’s main product and measured about the size of a small filing cabinet. You can view it using this link.

Redactron was bought out by the Burroughs Corporation, but Evelyn stayed on until 1979 when she left to work on various projects helping other technical start-up companies. She also sat on the boards of various universities and institutes.

Looking across all her amazing work and achievements it’s difficult to think of any part of the modern world that Evelyn Berezin didn’t have an impact on.