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The Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator (SSEC) was the first machine to combine electronic computation with a stored program, and the first machine capable of operating on its own instructions as data. When placed in operation in 1948, and for some time thereafter, it was the most flexible and powerful computer in existence. IBM published relatively little about it, and the SSEC has been largely overlooked by computer historians. This paper provides a historical setting for the SSEC.