In the fall of 1964, on a visit to the World’s Fair, in Queens, Lewis Altfest, a twenty-five-year-old accountant, came upon an open-air display called the Parker Pen Pavilion, where a giant computer clicked and whirred at the job of selecting foreign pen pals for curious pavilion visitors. Within a year, more than five thousand subscribers had signed on. It would invite dozens of matched couples to singles parties, knowing that people might be more comfortable in a group setting. They wound up in the pages of the New York subscriber.
You filled out a questionnaire, fed it into the machine, and almost instantly received a card with the name and address of a like-minded participant in some far-flung locale—your ideal match. He called up his friend Robert Ross, a programmer at I. M., and they began considering ways to adapt this approach to find matches closer to home. “This loser happens to be a talented fashion illustrator for one of New York’s largest advertising agencies.
They’d heard about some students at Harvard who’d come up with a program called Operation Match, which used a computer to find dates for people. She makes Quiche Lorraine, plays chess, and like me she loves to ski. ” One day, a woman named Patricia Lahrmer, from 1010 WINS, a local radio station, came to to do an interview.
A year later, Altfest and Ross had a prototype, which they called Project , an acronym for Technical Automated Compatibility Testing—New York City’s first computer-dating service. She was the station’s first female reporter, and she had chosen, as her début feature, a three-part story on how New York couples meet.
Each client paid five dollars and answered more than a hundred multiple-choice questions. (A previous installment had been about a singles bar—Maxwell’s Plum, on the Upper East Side, one of the first that so-called “respectable” single women could patronize on their own.) She had planned to interview Altfest, but he was out of the office, and she ended up talking to Ross.