Computers & Business Machines
Imagine the loss, 100 years from now, if museums hadn't begun preserving the artifacts of the computer age. The last few decades offer proof positive of why museums must collect continuously—to document technological and social transformations already underway.
The museum's collections contain mainframes, minicomputers, microcomputers, and handheld devices. Computers range from the pioneering ENIAC to microcomputers like the Altair and the Apple I. A Cray2 supercomputer is part of the collections, along with one of the towers of IBM's Deep Blue, the computer that defeated reigning champion Garry Kasparov in a chess match in 1997. Computer components and peripherals, games, software, manuals, and other documents are part of the collections. Some of the instruments of business include adding machines, calculators, typewriters, dictating machines, fax machines, cash registers, and photocopiers
Mainframe Computer Component, Williams Tube Electrostatic Memory from the Ferranti Mark I Computer
- Not long after the end of World War II, developers in both the United States and Great Britain set out to build new forms of room-sized mainframe computers. One challenge was storing the information generated by with a computer program. Frederick C. Williams and Tom Kilburn headed a team at the University of Manchester in Manchester, England, that developed a computer memory in which bits of data were stored on the charged screen of a cathode ray tube. Information on the screen was refreshed every fifth of a second. Such an electrostatic memory came to be called a Williams tube.
- Williams tubes were first used on the Manchester Mark I, a computer built at the university there in 1948 and used until 1950. Impressed by the machine, the British government contracted with the Manchester firm of Ferranti, Ltd., to build nine commercial versions of it. These appeared between 1951 and 1957. This Williams tube comes from the Ferranti Mark I built for the AVROE Company in Manchester in 1954. That computer was used there for ten years to solve problems associated with aircraft design, management, and programmable machine tools.
- There are six vacuum tubes across the front of the amplifier, all marked: MULLARD. The first on the right is markedL 606VD, the second: 606UB, the thrid: 6064SL. A mark in the upper right corner reads: FERRANTI.
- The contents of the memory of a Mark I was represented by a grid of dots on the screens of the Williams tubes. As early as 1951, British schoolmaster Christopher Strachey began work on a program that allowed him to play draughts (checkers) on the Ferranti Mark I at the University of Manchester. Using this program, it was possible to make the screen of one Williams tube appear like a checkerboard – though not to show moves of individual pieces. Other computer programmers – and later video game enthusiasts – would go further.
- Accession file.
- Martin Campbell-Kelly, “Christopher Strachey,”
, 7, #1, January, 1985, pp. 19-42.
- J. W. Cortada, Historical Dictionary of Data Processing Technology, New York: Greenwood Press, 1987, pp. 256-258.
- Simon Lavington, Early British Computers, Bedford, Massachusetts: Digital Press, 1980.
- date made
- Ferranti Limited
- ID Number
- catalog number
- accession number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History