ESPN FiveThirtyEight

14:08 Minutes

In 1965, a junior math major at Harvard named Jeff Tarr, fed up with coming home alone from mixers with Radcliffe, the women’s college across the way, figured that a computer could do better at analyzing who he might be compatible with.

Along with classmate Vaughan Morrill, Tarr raised $1,250 and recruited the help of David L. Crump and Douglas Ginsburg. They wrote questionnaires that asked students to answer questions about themselves and about their “ideal date.” Tarr and team distributed the questionnaire to colleges, and students returned them along with a $3 subscription fee. The answers were transferred onto Hollerith punch cards and analyzed by am IBM 1401 mainframe, which would match questionnaires with similar responses.

Each applicant would receive a computer printout with the names, phone numbers, and addresses of six people deemed their “ideal match”. Operation Match was born.

The idea of computer-aided dating went viral. By the fall of ’65, six months after the launch, some 90,000 Operation Match questionnaires had been received, amounting to $270,000 in sales, or nearly $2 million in today’s dollars.

By the time they sold the company in 1968, Operation Match had solicited more than a million respondents—a number of whom actually got married.