Dec 15, 2023

The first computer in Boise

Next up in 5

Example video title will go here for this video

BOISE, Idaho — Most people these days walk around with a personal computer in their purse, or pocket, or in their hands. Computers have come a long way and gotten quite a bit smaller than they used to be. In downtown Boise there is a plaque that commemorates the first computer in the state, and it was a big one.

On the corner of 6th and Main a plaque was put there by Dr. Emerson Maxson. Who was a member of the Association of Information Technology Professionals.

"We have to remember something about us, and so we said, 'let's do a plaque,'" Maxson said. "It was 66 years ago."

That is because 67 years ago President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Considered one of the greatest public works projects in our nation's history.

"The most talked about phase of the act is the Interstate Highway system, a 41-thousand-mile network of our most important roads," Maxson said, "and they needed computing to do the construction for the interstate highway system."

In the building that used to house the Idaho Statesman, and in 1957 was home to the state's highway department, they brought in Boise's very first computer. The Remington-Rand Univac 120, a universal, integrated, variable access computer. It was also used to figure out how much dirt to take away or put on to make roads. Made in 1956, it weighed 16,686 pounds.

"It took a big old machine to do that," Maxson said, "and so you see the size of the man [on the plaque] that's probably about a six-by-six space."

Many people may not see the size of the man pictured on the plaque...because they may not even notice the plaque itself, but one man does. 85-year-old Lynn Scheurman.

Back in January of 1960, a recent graduate of Boise Junior College, Lynn applied for a job with Idaho's Department of Highways. He was hired on the spot.

"My job was to do highway design work, which I'd been doing manually for the highway department," Scheurman said.

During those years they were building the interstate between Oregon and Utah.Lynn became the lone engineer working with the Univac.

"I think it took me three panels worth of programming to do the complete earthwork calculations that we had been doing by hand," Scheurman said. "I designed the cards. I built the patch panel. There was no manuals, no training, and I had to decipher by guess what the hieroglyphics meant on the patch panel."

To do that, he spent a lot of time in the basement of the building.

"I was probably here 20 hours a day sometimes, I just loved this place," Scheurman said.

The love of working there is what brought him back to Boise for the first time since 1975.

"I had to. I think about it so much, because it's where all of this started, "Scheurman said. "I had no clue what to do after college. There was something that I needed, I found it here, and this place has haunted me because it was where I met computers for the first time, and it set the course of my life."

His job with Idaho's Department of Highways, and working with the Univac 120, eventually led him to Oregon State University. Where Scheurman said he helped start their computer science center. It also led him to a 15-year career at Weyerhauser, and another 20 years as a consultant with Boeing, where he is still gainfully employed.

Through the years he brought his work home with him in the form of some of the first personal computers and laptops. Which rubbed off on his two sons, Brian and Carl, who went on to work for Microsoft and IBM, respectively.

That plaque, that building, that 32,000-pound computer, all made quite the impact for one man who wasn't sure what to do after Boise Junior College.

See the latest news from around the Treasure Valley and the Gem State in our YouTube playlist:


Download the KTVB News Mobile App

Apple iOS: Click here to download

Google Play: Click here to download

Watch news reports for FREE on YouTube: KTVB YouTube channel

Stream Live for FREE on ROKU: Add the channel from the ROKU store or by searching 'KTVB'.

Stream Live for FREE on FIRE TV: Search ‘KTVB’ and click ‘Get’ to download.


See the latest news from around the Treasure Valley and the Gem State in our YouTube playlist:HERE ARE MORE WAYS TO GET NEWS FROM KTVB:Apple iOS: Google Play: ROKU: FIRE TV:FOLLOW US ON TWITTER, FACEBOOK & INSTAGRAM