Vintage Computer Ads Are Funny

A new design book travels back to the future with a survey of 20th century computer and tech ads, some charmingly quaint, others actually pretty cool.

By Evelyn Crowley

In 2014, LA researcher/author Ryan Mungia was rummaging through a barn full of old magazines when he happened across a 1950s ad for the Remington Rand UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer). “My interest was piqued,” says Mungia, who’s made a career out of piecing together hyper niche visual surveys, from a photo zine of marijuana dispensary storefronts to a book of World War II venereal disease posters (sadly, both of which are out of print). “As someone familiar with design and advertising history, I realized pretty quickly that nobody had explored this particular area,” says Mungia, of vintage tech and computer ads. He quickly decided that he was the man for the job.

Soon realizing that the majority of mid-century technology companies either no longer exist (Remington Rand, anyone?) or don’t keep marketing archives, Mungia turned to the wilds of eBay and the flea market circuit. Five years later, his efforts have coalesced in the form of a new coffee table book, “Do You Compute: Selling Tech from the Atomic Age to Y2K.” Its pages not only trace the evolution of 20th century electronics but also offer a captivating look at how, over the decades, we’ve sold ourselves on the future. Below, Mungia gives us an exclusive look at four of the ads.

1957 Remington Rand-Ryan

1957 Remington Rand Univac

"This ad for Remington Rand's UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer) model epitomizes the straightforward style of '50s computer advertising. Perplexed by the challenge of presenting cutting-edge technology in equally cutting edge ways, ad agencys often defaulted to status quo conventions.The fact that their target audience of engineers, scientists, and CEOs probably didn't help much either."

1964 Burroughs-Ryan

1964 Burroughs B200

"By the mid-1960s, computer promotion had become a bit more sophisticated. This was partly due to the creative strides made by the ad industry itself, with campaigns that pushed boundaries and broke conventions. This 1964 Burroughs ad for the B200 console computer pokes fun at industry leader IBM while channeling the rebellious spirit of the era."

1965 Operation Match-Ryan

1965 "Operation Match"

"Before Tinder and Raya, there was Operation Match. In 1965, a group of Harvard undergraduates developed one of the first computerized dating services. Singles would fill out a questionnaire and a hulking IBM mainframe would analyze the data to determine their best possible partner. Questions ran the gamut from religious preferences to the importance of physical attractiveness."

1977 Polymorphic-Ryan

1977 Polymorphic System 8813

"By the time this 1977 Polymorphic ad for the System 8813 appeared, the personal computer revolution was in full swing. While larger firms such as IBM continued to utilize high-powered advertising agencies, many fledgling companies such as Polymorphic produced all of their marketing material in-house and placed them in niche, technical-oriented publications such as Byte. This partially explains why so many computer ads from the ’70s lack the wit and finesse of ads from the previous decade.