Operation Match: Computer Dating at UNC in the 1960s

Long before Tinder and Match.com, students at UNC and other schools looked to a computer for help finding dates with a  program called “Operation Match.”

Operation Match was founded by students at Harvard and Cornell in 1965. Students would send in a questionnaire with a $3.00 fee. Their answers were transferred to punch cards, processed on a five-ton mainframe computer in Massachusetts, and then the students were sent a list of names and phone numbers of potential matches.

The program came to UNC in time for the fall 1965 semester. A Daily Tar Heel editorial asked, “Are you willing to let a big machine with flashing lights and flying cards tell you how to run your personal social life?” Apparently many students were.

The program ran an interesting promotion on campus in October 1965. Patsy Puckett, who was then Miss Mississippi, filled out an Operation Match questionnaire and then went on a date with Carolina student she was matched with.

According to the DTH, several hundred students used the service in its first month. While Operation Match apparently led to several successful dates, there were some unusual matches, including that of a UNC sophomore who was matched with his sister, a student at Duke. This was notable not just for the fact that they were related, but, according one of the student’s friends, “They are as different as night and day.”

The program lasted at least through the next school year. In February 1966 Operation Match was advertising for a “North Carolina District Manager” to help with promotion and outreach. By the fall of 1966, the DTH declared “Electronic match-making is here to stay.”

In the University Archives, we’re interested in tracking down one of the questionnaires that the students were asked to fill out. We haven’t been able to find one in our records (yet). If any former students are reading this and have suggestions, please let us know [Edit 1/12/2017: Thank you to Emanuele Berry, a producer for the podcast Undone, who sent us an Operation Match survey from 1966! She turned up the survey while doing research for an episode on Operation Match.]

Operation Match ad from the Daily Tar Heel, 20 April 1966.
Operation Match ad from the Daily Tar Heel, 20 April 1966.