The mission of the newly re-opened Computer History Museum (CHM) in Mountain View, California, is to preserve and present for posterity the artifacts and stories of the information age. As such, we wouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit the museum last weekend, trying to be part and have a “feel” of how computers where like before the desktop home computers took off only two decades ago. Before that time, computers were much different, and I am sure that every geek on this planet would like to witness how they looked and felt like. Read more for the report and plenty of pictures from our visit.
The building was acquired just last October and used to be SGI’s, built 5-6 years ago “back when they still had money”. It is standing next to the SGI campus and it is very modern and spacious with several levels and storage departments.
The museum is open at 1 PM Wednesday and Friday for a 1-hour tour, and on every first and third Saturday of each month for a 1 PM and 2 PM tours. The tours are free for the public. Most tours are done currently by volunteers. We were lucky to be guided by Randy Neff, a knowledgeable guy with a… humor twist.
We started the tour by seeing the first IBM machine, built around 1890, which was made for census purposes. The guide quickly told us the history of IBM and how it became the company we know today. Then we moved to other artifacts like huge hard drives (3 feet in diameter, 25 platters, 100KB per head) and all sorts of tapes from the past 50 years.
One of the highlights of the museum is that they had an Enigma machine on display (check pictures below). A rack of ENIAC followed, which I found very impressive. A quick explanation of Von Neuman’s report followed and we saw a few computers created based on this report: Johniac and then Illiac (“NASA had to replace its Illiac with the slower… Cray because they couldn’t find spares anymore in the ’80s”).
We saw a lot of machines from IBM including one of the first S360 series, then it was Digital’s turn with most of the PDP range in full display: PDP-8, PDP-11 etc. We also saw a very… funny machine, the “Kitchen Computer” created in the ’60s for the… housewives of the time. Too bad they never sold any of these (actually, they only made one) as it was too expensive and the small display was only showing binary code instead of human-readable text. It was definately not something that housewives would like for $10,600 USD of that time.
Other interesting exhibit items were the RAID machine that was built in Berkeley in 1991, which was the one test machine that brought us the RAID protocol, and the first router of the ARPA Net (a.k.a. Internet).
Check the pictures and then read more below for the second page of the article.
We were also introduced to some massive governement computers of the time, created for defense purposes and were in full serving till 1975 (“my favorite part of it is the built-in… ash tray” Randy said). Another interesting machine was a computer created by a student of the Wisconsin uni in the 50s/60s, and for the last few years was forgotten in the basement of a house where the son of the owner was shooting at with his… gun (“his son seemed to be in guns a bit”), so the computer has a few holes… Other interesting artifacts was an all-analog computer, and a big Johniac (not all of it was saved) where the company which had it has threw it outside of the building next to dumpster. Out of complete luck, one of the… architects of the computer was… driving by and he saw the computer sitting out in the sun in LA next to the dumpster. He thankfully was able to save the front of the computer and donate it to the museum. The museum also had on display a supercomputer built by Intel, sporting a few hundreds of Intel CPUs all working in SMP mode.
More supercomputers followed and we got to see 2-3 models of super computers that came out before the ’70s, and then of course, was the CRAY experience. The museum has on display the CRAY-I, CRAY-II and the unique CRAY-III (only one was built) all side by side. It feels great to be standing next to the whole range of the golden era of CRAY. Really beautiful, powerful and outstanding computers.
At last, we got around to see the desktop history, starting with the first home computer of 1971 (“that no one knows about”), then the Altair, an Apple I (signed by Woz himself), Xerox Alto and Xerox Star, an Atari, an IBM PC, a TRS-80, an Osborne, an Amiga, early Sun workstations, SGI workstations, Apple II, Classic Mac, Apple Lisa, Apollos etc. There were also an Apple Cube, a 20th anniversary Mac, a NeXT Cube, and a BeBox.
There were a lot more items but they are too many to mention them all. In fact, the museum is preparing on utilizing more of the building and bring on display more items which currently are sitting unsorted in their storage room out of public sight. An important matter I would like to mention here is the donations one. Although the tours for the public are free, the museum needs donators to get it going. People can donate either money or artifacts. A lot of well known people have already helped financially the museum (e.g. Dennis Ritchie (C and Unix), Dave Cutler (VMS and NT architect)) and many companies as well, like Intel. The museum needs the support of IT companies, like Apple, Microsoft or IBM to grow, so if people from these companies are reading this, I hope they are going to help out financially and otherwise. Regarding artifacts, the museum has clear instructions as to what needs to get donated and what’s not. One thing is though, the museum mostly has US and Japanese technology, so if you have any UK, German, Russian or other rare computer artifacts, consider donating them to the biggest computer museum of the world.
All I have to say is that I had a great time in the museum and I highly recommend you visit it too if you are living in the area, or if you are passing by. It is definitely worth seeing, it is part of history and for an hour, you feel that you become part of that history too. A must-see for all friends of technology.
A semi-offtopic note: The Australian museum of computing needs your help or its artifacts might end up in the streets.
All pictures were taken by Jean-Baptiste Queru. Thanks JBQ.
No mentioning of Konrad Zuse, His Z3 was the first fully functional, program controlled (freely programmable) computer of the world.
The Z3 was presented on May 12, 1941 to an audience of scientists in Berlin. The Mark II, the ENIAC and the Colossus followed 1943 and later.
His Z1 http://irb.cs.tu-berlin.de/~zuse/Konrad_Zuse/en/Rechner_Z1.html was built between 1936 and 1938, but got destroyed during the war.
Here are some links:
Did you not check the pictures? We have a picture of Z3. It is there on display, we saw it (part of it of course).
I remember visiting it some 5 years ago. I guess you should register a domain like oshistory.org and put all those screenshots you can have into it 🙂
Can I get some money for the idea? 🙂
Erm, what does the site’s design has to do with the museum? Their web site always gets updated when they have news btw, the design might be the same as before, who really cares? It it works, no need to change it.
Very nice photography! As with architecture, few computers today are as aesthetically interesting today as they once were.
I visited the Computer Museum in Boston about 7 years ago and it was also great. Afterwards there was a charity auction and I watched someone spend $10,000 on an Apple II motherboard autographed by Jobs and Woz.
I love seeing this sort of thing on OS news. Thanks for the article 🙂
Good idea, many of the modern OS concepts are actually 20-30 years old would give people some perspective. OTOH it will be probably DOSed by mac users in a matter of seconds.
Anyway, great photography. I wish I could visit there myself
Nice article Eugenia, very interesting.
Thanks for the article and pictures Eugenia. Seeing the pictures of those devices brings to mind a thought about programming. Those were the days of very lean programs and bloat was a No No.
Unfortunately today computer software makers blatently exploit inexpensive hardware. Maybe if RAM prices went back to 1980s level there would be incentive to write leaner code.
are you telling me that you want RAM to go back the 1980 levels so you don’t have to worry about bloat-ware? Anybody else find that to be the most absurd comment anybody has heard yet. The reason there is bloat-ware is because people want instant software and are unable to wait 5 years for a new release. In addition people want a bundle of features included, that is why business people prefer MS Office over Open Office. Open Office has a lot of good features it’s just no where near the level of Microsoft.
I don’t know how this museum handles it, but the ones I saw (in Europe) all just displayed the hardware, without also showing the software that run on it. I thought this is higly frustrating. In my opinion, software deserved to be preserved for future generations just like hardware, literature and paintings.
I mean, it’s nice to know how an Alto looks like powered off, but I want to know how it feels like working with it. I not interested in a Lisp machine because it’s huge and loud, but because it ran a highly integrated and flexible OS which probably could still serve as a source of inspiration for todays UI designers. Lots of software are probably already lost forever (try finding a copy of WorldWideWeb, the first web client. There are still some floating around on the net, but it is surprisingly hard, and it’s only ten years old), and licensing and hardware requirements make a personal collection hard. Are there any museums that care about software stuff?
Is this museum just for USA or does it include UK info. e.g. UK built first ever electronic computer, info on Alan Turing.
Great article Eugenia. I Loved the pictures. The first computer I used was a PDP-11 back in 1975 just like the one in the picture. I remember having it pulled out from the racking with the cards exposed just like there.
It has ferrite core memory and I can still remember how light a semiconductor replacement board felt compared to the ferrite core. Our machine had 48Kb memory better than the standard 32Kb. To boot he system you had to manually input an octal bootstrap sequence via the switches on the front panel. Oh memories!
Great article, Eugenia! Wow, I always wanted to see a PDP-8, which the hackers at MIT used!!!
How exactly does one USE that thing? I’ve played with some emulators before, but I’ve never really found anything that explained how it worked, or how you got any output from flipping those switches.
I’m amazed that I lived down the road from that place for over a year and never knew it was there. Now that I live near Boston I’ll have to check out the museum there.
“I always wanted to see a PDP-8, which the hackers at MIT used!!!”
BTW My next computer after the PDP-11 was moving backwards to a PDP-8(with 7 inch (or something like that) floppies instead of the 10 inch 2.4 MB cartridge hard drive. It didn’t look like the picture. The kit at the bottom of the picture looks similar. We didn’t have the stuff that looks like a pair of HiFi speakears on top. I guess they are some sort of peripheral, since they have reflecting front panels maybe there are tape drive behind. Is the picture of the PDP-8 the one that the first UNIX ran on in which case it’s a holy ikon.
That brings back memories..
Did some Onyx2 training in that building.
I love how mechanical some of this stuff is… check out those belt-driven hard disks! Kinda makes me wish I’d experienced them (my first was an Apple IIe). Thanks Eugenia.
Great article, nice pictures too.
BTW, the goverment defense computer, SAGE, that you refer to has some installations working until spring 1983. They had an availability of 99.97% during their working life. Not bad for a 55,000 tube computer working with magnetic core and drum memory!
With my system ( circa 1975) which had a 10 inch 2.4 MB cartridge hard drive, you first manually inputed a four word octal bootstrap sequence via the switches on the front panel. This then booted the hard drive that had the operating system on it – called RT-11. Our system had the DEC BASIC (a Dartmouth type basic) and FORTRAN IV. We were using it for real time data aquisition from a Mass Spectrometer using an ADC and running the instrument manufacturers proprietary software.
For those of you old enough to remember CP/M but who haven’t used an old DEC machine, CP/M is very similar in command structure to the old DEC 16 bit operating systems RT-11 and OS-8 (for the PDP-8). This is because Gary Kildall who founded DR once worked for DEC as an operating system software engineer. Oh the good old days of using PIP – the peripheral interchange program. I think I can still remember the syntax now.
As Eugenia says: “…of how computers where like before the desktop home computers took off only two decades ago.”
In January 24th, 1984 (just nineteen and a half years ago) Apple Computer intrduced Macintosh “So 1984 (the year) won’t be like 1984 (the book)”.
And the desktop world changed!
The museum indeed mostly contains US artifacts. There are obviously a few exceptions (an enigma, part of the Z3, an early NEC transistor-based machine to name a few that I remember), but those are exceptions indeed. There are a few small Sinclair machines (ZX81, Spectrum, QL), but once again those are just an exception. I’m very sure that the museum would accept donations…
My first computer use was playing lunar lander on a PDP-11….monchrome vector graphics and a light pen…the Commodore64 was blazingly fast in comparison!
Thanks for the comments about the pictures (I took them). I guess that not everyone is as picky as I am about them, as I would probably have kept maybe half a dozen of them at most, but Eugenia insisted that I scan everything so that she could pick.
Sorry for the dust and the funky greenish colors (caused by the fluorescent light), I didn’t have the time to properly scan the negatives so I just set the scanner in “automated batch” mode.
Hopefully we’ll go again, and this time I’ll rent a faster/wider lens and maybe use faster film, hoping to use a polarizer to cut through those pesky reflections.
Wow, this article makes me want to drag out the old PB165 and take her for a spin…
> I mean, it’s nice to know how an Alto looks like powered
> off, but I want to know how it feels like working with it.
Hmmmm yes! But the problem is that all those old media like tapes, disks or punch cards ain’t made for eternity.
> (try finding a copy of WorldWideWeb, the first web client.
> There are still some floating around on the net, but it is
> surprisingly hard, and it’s only ten years old),
You’ll only need the right OS
> Are there any museums that care about software stuff?
Try private collectors – many of them have their hardware still workable with OS and applications.
Try attending a vintage computer meeting, a lot of hobbyist go there to meet and exchange information. Most of them bring some of their warez with them, part of the fun of restoring an old computer is to actually get it to “original” condition including software. I have had lots of fun at a few of those meetings during the years… plus you get to actually see old computers running whatever it was they were meant to compute
I’m amazed that I lived down the road from that place for over a year and never knew it was there. Now that I live near Boston I’ll have to check out the museum there.
I believe that the Boston museum doesn’t exist anymore. Some things were sold, others shipped to California.
Is there still a huge computer history collection at Moffet Field, or did it all go to this place?
Sounds strange from someone who loves BeOS, but I hadn’t actually SEEN a BeBox in my life until just now…
Too bad I live in a country where you can’t even buy a decent Linux distribution…
Euginia….we’re going to be jonesing hard when you leave. We love you:)
This is a place I have wanted to visit for some time. I just can’t make it a practical trip. Maybe on my eventual ride out west to relocate…
I also considered making my own “consumer computer” museum but I don’t have the time, money or resources. (So I just collect the cool stuff from my youth, like Tandy computers, and the neat but abandoned things, like Newton, etc).
Thanks for the article and thanks even more for the pictures!
<em>Too bad I live in a country where you can’t even buy a decent Linux distribution…</em>
What? This is just understatement! A few of the best OSS developers I know are from NL….
You can’ be serious!
I heard the Australian Computer Museum and all of it’s exhibits could be headed for the scrap heap soon if no Angel saves it. I thought it would be appropriate to give it a mention in the hopes some such person(s) are reading.
It will take them 6 months to move out of their present location so they’d have to start junking computers about now. Perhaps OSNews might like to e-mail them for an update.
For immediate release
Australian Computer Museum Society Inc LAUNCHES
APPEAL FOR ‘Working Computer Museum’ SITE
and ‘Hall of Fame’ for Australian Computing Pioneers.
The Australian Computer Museum Society Inc (ACMS) has launched its public appeal for funding of a ‘Working Computer Museum’. The ‘Working Museum’ will allow the ACMS to begin implementing its primary educational aims. We only need $5 million (approx) to get established.
The ACMS was formed in 1994 to preserve and protect Australia’s computing heritage. The ‘Hall of Fame’ will be dedicated to all those Australians who have been directly involved in the development of the Computer industry.
The community response over the past 8 years has been so successful that the ACMS now has over 10,000 items in its cramped storage facility in the western suburbs of Sydney. Individual members have thousands of extra items stored in their homes or garages for future generations to appreciate.
The establishment of the ‘Working Computer Museum’ will be a major step forward in the ACMS program to establish regional exhibition sites around Australia. The current need is for about 3000 square metres of storage space and 1000 square metres of display space for working displays and a library, a theatrette, a restoration workshop and multi-media facilities.
Michael Capellas, Chairman and CEO of Compaq, said in 2002 “Two decades is a long time in the technology business, and the last 20 years have seen more change than any similar stretch of time in the relatively brief history of the IT industry.”
The ACMS President, David Hawley, B.Sc. said “.. Australia’s computing heritage goes back 80 years to the development of mechanical totalisators by Sir George Julius who later became the first chairman of the CSIR (later CSIRO)”. The ACMS has a duty to record and publicise the works of all the early Australian computing pioneers, especially those inventors such as Trevor Pearcey and Maston Beard who built CSIRAC (Australia’s first electronic computer) in 1949.
Computer historian and Past President, Graeme Philipson has said ” The computer industry is now old enough to have a history. If we do not preserve that history it will disappear forever”. Already, many hundreds of rare items are lost.
The ACMS Collection Officer has said “.. it is not generally recognised that Australia has been a market place for calculators and computers from all over the world and hence there has been a greater diversity of equipment used here than almost anywhere else in the world. For this reason we need a fully funded Working Computer Museum – not only for school and university students, but for future researchers and for posterity and for generations to come.”
SOME RARE LOCAL COMPUTER ITEMS IN THE COLLECTION:
Original Electronics Australia micro-computer (first kit 1974)
Pre-PC micro-computers such as the MicroBee.
EAI Analog Computers from the 1960s.
Power Station Control Computer – 16 cabinets from Torrens Island in S.A., combined analog/digital system, based on germanium transistors that was in service for 33 years.
A CP/M computer used for the first automated version of the Macquarie Dictionary.
Six systems from the CompuServe Pacific Bureau, a 1970s Time-Sharing bureau.
A 1970s Sybron-Taylor oil refinery control computer – retrieved from Marrickville.
The W.A. Chapter has a Bendix G15, and portion of a DEC PDP-6 and a LEO system.
IBM System 360 (working) with Card Reader
Items from SILLIAC, UTECOM, CIRRUS, and any other Australian computers pre 1970.
Traffic Analysis computer as built in late 1960s at Uni of NSW for A.R.R.B. project.
New members to assist with collection of oral histories from Computer Pioneers.
Most of the working exhibits will come from the 1970s and 1980s mini-computers and mainframe collection together with many micro-computers from all over the world.
The ACMS is seeking assistance with both storage space and running expenses.
All prospective donors and sponsors are requested to contact the Secretary, Max Burnet in the first instance on 02- 9484 6772, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR FURTHER TECHNICAL INFORMATION
John Geremin, Honorary Treasurer, ACMS Inc. Ph: 02- 9642 5564, Mobile: 0427 10 20 60
John Deane, Publications Officer, ACMS Inc. Ph: 02- 9372 4429
or e-mail to email@example.com
ACMS Inc – Preserving Australia’s Computing Heritage
The Australian Computer Museum Society has no employees or government funding to support its educational aims and objectives. The ACMS relies very heavily on its members and voluntary workers to maintain the current collection, most of which is still waiting to be tested and formally catalogued.
The ACMS Inc is endorsed as a Charity and as a Deductable Gift Recipient by the Australian Tax Office under Subdivision 30-B of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997.
I updated the story with your information. Hopefully someone high up might read it and save it.
I noticed there was a reference in the article to a “first home computer from 1971 that “no one knows about””. Could this be the computer designed and built by Finnish physicist/inventor Erkki Kurenniemi? The machine he created would have been in existence around this time, a couple of years before other, more prominent examples.
I’ve been reading a number of articles about this gentleman, and his activites (in building innovative early electronic musical instruments mainly), and there’s also a documentary film about him, which was recently released on DVD (“The Future Is Not What It Used To Be”). A fascinating character to say the least, and a largely forgotten pioneer in many fields.
The Mt. View CA based museum started in 1996 as a branch of The Computer Museum [Boston]. The branch was called The Computer Museum History Center and had the charter of the original The Computer Museum, preserving and displaying for posterity the artifacts and stories of The Information Age.
Most of the collection was moved from Boston to Mt. View in 1996. A few items including a Univac stayed in Boston.
Later The Computer Museum History History Center split from The Computer Museum, got its own 501(3)c status, and changed its name to The Computer History Museum. Soon after that The Computer Museum merged with The Science Museum. Eventually The Computer Museum let its 501(3)c status lapse so it no longer exists. Its modest collection is just part of The Science Museum.
The Computer History Museum was initially located entirely
at Moffett Field. Last year they bought 7.5 acres at 1401 Shoreline Dr., Mt. View CA including a 118K sq.ft. building originally built by Silicon Graphics Inc. The public displays opened to the public at the new location 02JUN2003.
Like any museum of this type e.g. Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago), Deutches Museum (Munchen) only 10-20% of the collection is on display at any given time. The rest is in dense storage. Most of the Computer History Museum collection is in dense storage at Moffett Field and is not available for public display.
Unlike The Computer Museum and The Austrailian Computer Museum, the Computer History Museum understands that such a museum must be endowed. They are raising $100 Million, 2/3 of which will be an endowment, before they open as a proper museum, open all day every day. For the time being the Visable Storage collection is open only 12 hours per month and is staffed by volunteer docents.
My Dad was a field engineer at IBM for about 30 years. I remember him mentioning working on “360’s”.
At one time (many years later) he was issued a “portable” computer, i.e. “luggable,” an IBM model that looked an awful lot like the Osbourne pictured at the Computer Museum’s site.
You can bet I’ll be forwarding their URL to him!
As for me, I want my computer to come with a built-in ashtray, like the “Weapons Control Console.” Hey, when you’re in control of computerized weapons, I guess you might just want to smoke to calm your nerves. Ah, those were the days.
Of course, a card reader would just put the icing on the cake – but an ashtray is a nice start. Just watch out for kids stashing their gum in it.
… and is that not a car dashboard-style fag lighter socket beside it? That has got to be the funniest thing I’ve seen!