#ElonTBT: Elon purchases first computer in 1979

In this edition of #ElonTBT, we celebrate 40 years since a major advancement in technology at Elon University: the purchase of the university's first academic computer.

In the #ElonTBT series, the Elon University News Bureau, along with Archives & Special Collections, will flash back to the past to take a look at Elon over the years. You will find videos, newspaper clippings, photos and more to celebrate Elon’s past, while looking ahead to the future. Follow along on E-Net and the university’s TwitterFacebook and Instagram pages every Thursday to see what we dig up.

Today’s Elon students have access to a wealth of technology – computers, video and audio devices, and more – but, 40 years ago the school’s technological journey was just beginning.

In 1979, Elon College purchased its first academic computer for the campus. The DEC PDP 11/34 could handle input from 16 users at one time and store 56 million letters or numbers on two disk drives, or more than 256,000 characters on a single drive.

The front page of the Sept. 27, 1979, edition of the Pendulum student newspaper highlights the purchase of Elon’s first computer.

The computer was a pricey investment for Elon, costing at least $60,000, according to the Sept. 27, 1979, edition of The Pendulum student newspaper.

According to “From a Grove of Oaks: The Story of Elon University” by George Troxler, the computer was housed in two units “the size of filing cabinets” at the Learning Resource Center (later named the LaRose Resource Center) located within Mooney Building. Faculty and students could access the computer via terminals inside the center.

During the 1980 winter term, the campus offered its first computer course. Math Professor Gerald Francis, who would later become Elon’s provost and executive vice president, spearheaded the effort to establish a Computer Science minor, which would evolve into the Computer Science major in 1982.

An Elon student uses one of the campus’ first academic computers in 1979.

The computer purchase was made possible by a $2 million federal Title III Advanced Institutional Development grant awarded to Elon in 1977. The grant was not to be used for buildings or for the school’s endowment, but to enhance Elon’s programming budget over a five-year period.

Along with the computer, the grant helped Elon create three new faculty positions, strengthen and revise its course offerings, establish an honors program and launch the academic advising department, along with other projects.

By the 1984-85 academic year, Elon housed three computer labs on campus, which gave students access to personal computers to enhance their studies.

In “From a Grove of Oaks,” Elon’s seventh president, Fred Young, said the AIDP grant “provided a turning point in Elon’s development and led to the unprecedented expansion in the 1980s.”

Do you have any special pieces of Elon history? Share your photos and videos with us via email at news@elon.edu or using the hashtag #ElonTBT on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.