JF Ptak Science Books Post 1296
"Computers do not as yet sell themselves."--Lehman, 1959
Answer: an inexpensive, $12,000 digital computer in 1959.
Mind you this is legions better than what was happening in the mid-1940's, with teams of hundreds and costs in the many millions, and much better than in the early 1950's, when these numbers were of an order of magnitude greater.
It seems to me that this short 1959 paper is at the upper end of a beginning concern--costing -out the price of a digital computer for second-tier interests. "The Specification Development of a Cost-Limited Digital Computer" (by M. Lehman of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and available here for purchase) was written for those businesses and schools with a definite low-end budget, the upper range of which was set by Lehman at $12,000 for "peripherals, hardware and programming (or about $125,000 in 2010 dollars, sort of1). This figure was also exclusive of maintenance outside of the cost (at 15-20% of the construction costs overall) of designing and building the machine.
This was some new thinking on providing lower-cost digital computers to a new market: "in just ten years there has emerged a multimillion dollar industry largely dominated....by the giants of the electronics and data-processing industries...". Lehman was saying that there was a new opportunity for business to supply computers to "smaller research groups" who were "finding it increasingly difficult to obtain the backing which would enable them...to build an actual machine". There were other ways of doing it, and Lehman laid out the basic understanding of that procedure.
Lehman's leading quote for this post was accurate--computers needed to be "sold", as in salesmen and businesses actively engaged in contacting clients who would ("might") benefit from having computeriaed part of their business. The computer manufacturer's "staff will often spend many months investigating customer's problems, possibly reorganizing his techniques and generally preparing teh ground for the installation of a Digital System..."
(The figures in the right column are indeed dollars.)
Lehman was doing some groundbreaking work here at the end of the '50's, still far ahead of the time--and probably a full generation--where computers didn't necessarily have to be shown as being 'needed" let alone
"necessary". The computer would be "selling itself" on the low-end of the market soon enough, but really not until the Reagan years when it was beyond question that the computer could be used by virtually any person or business--at affordable rates.
1. Sort of, indeed. Straight CPI translation would put this figure at about $125,000, but the other cost of things in 1959 compared to 2010 is a different structure. Sure, it might cost out to 125k, but that $12k in 1959 could've been traded for a decent working-class house in a big city; you couldn't trade that $125k for the same thing today, no way, no how.