The First Search Engine

By now, most people know about search engines, particularly those by Google, Yahoo and MSN, not to mention dedicated search applications such as those by Amazon and eBay, but few people know how it all began. This is the story of the first search engine.


Actually, this story is really one of what exiting new achievements can occur when an inspired engineer is let loose on a groundbreaking new tool, in this case, remote timesharing computing capabilities.

In 1970, working at a newly formed computer timesharing company, Mr. Warren Juran, ME, PE, invented the first search engine. As a programmer for Proprietary Computer Systems (PCS), Mr. Juran developed a two-part application written in the APL programming language for a network based around an IBM 360 mainframe computer system. This two part application, in one part, read documents on PCS' computing network to construct and maintain a content database, and, in a second part, used search terms provided by remote online users to search this database and return relevant results.

How It Came to Be

During the 1960's, Mr. Juran was the Manager of Analysis at Marquardt Rocket Systems Division in Van Nuys, California. Marquardt leased a large and expensive IBM 360 mainframe computer system as an engineering and business tool. Marquardt's Rocket Engine Systems used the IBM 360 to help design and develop several different kinds of rocket engines such as the attitude control rocket engines for the Apollo Service Module and Lunar Module. In the waning days of the Apollo Manned Space Program, Marquardt devised a new business strategy for their underutilized IBM 360. This new business, providing computer storage and applications commercially in the form of a cohesive computing network, quickly proved itself and became PCS in 1970. Mr. Juran joined PCS and helped create a series of successful programs to create the world's largest library of APL application software.

Mr. Juran was one of the first software engineers to develop applications not only for remote timesharing services but also for IBM's powerful new APL language. At PCS, he was responsible for developing new applications that let remote users receive advanced computing services, most of them business oriented. One of his applications, called SEARCH/Enter, was the name of the network location of a computer software program that scanned files for content and maintained a database of keywords from which names and location of files using these keywords could be retrieved. A terminal user would then use another computer software program called SEARCH/Retrieve to query the database using keywords and obtain a list of search results with relevant content snippets. The user could further refine the search with addition keywords, or retrieve documents online in which he was interested. This was the first search engine.

  • The contents of various related and unrelated documents were scanned and were contributed to a centralized searchable database.
  • A software application was run by users specifying keywords returning search results.
  • Users could go online from remote locations and perform keyword searches.
  • Upon completion of a search, users could select and retrieve paragraphs, sentences or entire documents for further review.

"Our customers’ jaws dropped when they saw the online search application," reminisces Mr. Juran. "It was predominately the punch card era, so they had never seen anything like it before." Many early adopters were Carnation (now part of Nestlé), Rockwell, Chevron, Price Waterhouse, Exxon as well as several government agencies. Subsequent to the success of SEARCH, Mr. Juran focused his development time on two other significant companion applications. One application was called PCS/INFO (originally called INFORM), one of the first relational database systems and one of PCS's most widely used products. It boasted an easy-to-learn and use natural language interface, a precursor to SQL.

Another application was REPORT, a report generating program that included row, column, and cell formulas, consolidation features, and attractively formatted output.

Mr. Juran also collaborated on the design of MSG, one of the first electronic mail systems. Developed in the early 1970’s, by 1979, it provided communications across the United States and between the United States and Europe, mainly for the employees of CISI, the company that acquired PCS. CISI of France, is now part of CS Systèmes d'Information (CS-SI). CS-SI is a France-based publicly held software services and systems engineering company.

What Happened?

SEARCH enjoyed a two decade long lifespan, ending in 1992 when PCS closed down from burgeoning competition from personal computers (PCs). The management of PCS' parent company, CISI, decided that timesharing services had run their course. Mr. Juran went on to found The Juran Company and become an independent computer consultant developing relational database management systems and custom applications for his many customers. He is also a Principal Consultant with DataPlex, Inc. through which he provides a number of different engineering consulting services.

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