A Brief History of Vintage Matchmaking

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The main component of most Internet dating sites is the questionnaire. Users answer a series of questions based on desire or preference, and the raw data is matched with users who share common traits. A 25-year-old accountant from the Bronx and a computer programmer for IBM banked on this template in 1965 when they created Project TACT (Technical Automated Compatibility Testing) for young New Yorkers living on the Upper East Side. Many of the questions were cringe-worthy, but it’s fascinating to see how early computers were put to use when it came to online romance.

Each client paid five dollars and answered more than a hundred multiple-choice questions. One section asked subjects to choose from a list of “dislikes”: “1. Affected people. 2. Birth control. 3. Foreigners. 4. Free love. 5. Homosexuals. 6. Interracial marriage,” and so on. Another question, in a section called “Philosophy of Life Values,” read, “Had I the ability I would most like to do the work of (choose two): (1) Schweitzer. (2) Einstein. (3) Picasso.” Some of the questions were gender-specific. Men were asked to rank drawings of women’s hair styles: a back-combed updo, a Patty Duke bob. Women were asked to look at a trio of sketches of men in various settings, and to say where they’d prefer to find their ideal man: in camp chopping wood, in a studio painting a canvas, or in a garage working a pillar drill. Tact transferred the answers onto a computer punch card and fed the card into an I.B.M. 1400 Series computer, which then spit out your matches: five blue cards, if you were a woman, or five pink ones, if you were a man.

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