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Feb. 15, 2008

Mixer punch cards

These students are displaying the computer punch cards used to match participants at the 1963 "computer mixer" dance. Photo from University Archives, ISU Library.

A Sesquicentennial look back

Before internet dating ...

by Erin Rosacker

In the fall of 1963, Iowa State made national news for its "mixer" dance. Attendees, who filled out a questionnaire in advance, were matched with the help of an IBM computer housed in Snedecor Hall.

According to Ed Lewis, retired associate provost and a psychology professor and member of the student counseling service at the time, a student group organized the event after learning of similar mixers at other schools. Lewis and C. C. Mosier, operations manager of ISU's Computer Center, headed up development of the project.

"You might say I was the personality consultant," Lewis said. "He did the programming part of it and I helped with what went into the program."

With approximately 500 male and 500 female respondents, the process was time-consuming. Information was loaded onto punch cards and run through the computer. Participants were given three "matches" each, based on three factors: opposite sex, height (man taller than woman) and personality.

"You have to remember, this was back in the early 1960s, so it was a pretty conservative approach," Lewis said.

The biggest obstacle was getting an even number of participants. Lewis said they were short on females and had to bus in some women from a nursing school in Des Moines.

"I think I remember one or two [success stories]," he said. "When you match people on any system, even randomly, you probably come out with some small percentage that end up being good matches."

Although Lewis worked only on the initial mixer, he believes there were a couple more. Time magazine published a story on the event, and Life magazine had an entire spread, including photos, planned for its November issue. That was scrapped, however, to cover the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

"The whole value of something like this was to get couples together," Lewis said. "Then they have something to talk about to start with -- trying to figure out why they got matched with each other."

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Sesqui series

Inside is celebrating the sesquicentennial with a yearlong series of photos and articles that look back at Iowa State traditions, people and places.