“My Computing Devices” select object list

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will open “My Computing Devices,” a 30-foot display that offers a look at the complex story of American relationships, innovation, experimentation and ownership of computing devices, on August 28.

Thomas Hill’s arithmometer patent model, 1857

Thomas Hill, a minister in Waltham, Massachusetts, patented this adding machine—one of the first to have keys. Hill had more influence as a textbook author, a minister, and president of Harvard University. Courtesy of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

R. C. Archibald’s slide rule, 1900–1908

Canadian-born mathematician R. C. Archibald likely acquired this slide rule as a graduate student in Germany. He kept it during his long career at Brown University. From the 1890s, scientists and engineers routinely owned slide rules and used them for basic arithmetic. Students wore them on their belts or carried them in their pockets as a symbol of technical expertise. Gift of Brown University

Kim Dong Kuen’s abacus, around 1900

Kim Dong Kuen and his wife, early Korean settlers in Hawaiʻi, owned this abacus of Chinese design. The abacus was an ancient computing device that, by the 1800s, was widely used in much of Asia, including Russia. Gift of Dana Tai Soon Burgess

Nannie Burroughs’s cash register, about 1905

From 1909 until her death in 1961, Nannie Burroughs was the president of a business college for African American students in Washington, D.C. This cash register, marked with her name, was used to teach students at the school. Gift of Nannie Helen Burroughs School

Hirshhorn’s Addometer, around 1927

Businessman Joseph Hirshhorn, who would give his art collection to the Smithsonian Institution, owned one of the first examples of this adding machine. Sales of the instrument continued into the mid-1900s, as period advertisements attest. Transfer from Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Compiling Routines A-0., 1952

In this document, computer pioneer Grace Murray Hopper and her colleagues at Remington Rand UNIVAC in Philadelphia introduced fundamental ways of programming mainframe computers that would become commonplace. Courtesy of Grace Murray Hopper

Prototype electronic calculator, 1967

A Texas Instruments team in Dallas, Texas, led by Jack Kilby built this prototype. TI first sold chips to other handheld calculator manufacturers and then began selling calculators itself. These would become the personal calculating device of countless students and professionals, selling in the tens of millions. Gift of Texas Instruments

Margaret Fox’s SEAC game cartridge, around 1960

Margaret Fox kept this game cartridge for the SEAC computer. The machine was programmed to compute prime numbers, but also to play tic-tac-toe and generate musical selections. SEAC, built at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., in the 1950s, carried out calculations for military and scientific use. Demonstrations for visitors took a lighter tone. Gift of Vicki Stauffacher


Engineers at the IBM Scientific Center in Palo Alto, California, designed this early portable computer for demonstrations of the programming language APL. Gift of International Business Machines Corporation

Xerox Star information system monitor, 1981

In 1981 Xerox began to sell systems of linked microprocessors for office use. These had screens with icons, as well as applications ranging from text entry to graphics to information retrieval to electronic mail to mathematical equation solving. Less expensive machines made by other vendors soon dominated the market. Gift of Xerox Corporation

The Hilke Family’s Commodore 64, 1982

Museum educator D. D. Hilke used this personal computer while writing her dissertation. Her sons used it for science fair projects. The same machine could also be used for playing games and doing home accounting. A television set served as the monitor. Gift of D. D. Hilke

Little Professor Calculator, around 1978

This colorful electronic calculator, made by Texas Instruments, shows arithmetic problems. A correct answer prompts another problem on the eight-digit display. An error delivers the message "EEE." Gift of John B. Priser

Simon, 1978

After seeing the arcade version of “Touch Me,” Inventor Ralph Baer decided he could improve upon the game. He changed the notes to the four notes sounded by a bugle, designed the game to be portable, and named it for the game “Simon Says.” His game was an instant success. Gift of Ralph H. Baer

PANAMAC agent set, 1964

Making airline reservations was one of the first commercial applications of linked terminals. IBM developed a system for Pan American that included this terminal. Some of the first people to regularly use a computer for customer service were agents of Pan American Airlines, who used systems like this one to book airline tickets. Gift of Pan American World Airways

Laura Warner’s iPad, 2011

Laura Warner used this first generation iPad as a student at the University of Kansas. She found it particularly convenient in studying assigned readings teachers posted online. Warner also had a laptop computer for use in her room. Gift of Laura Warner

Vint Cerf’s Google Glass, 2013

More recent personal computing devices include the Google Glass, which could be worn like a pair of glasses. Wearers could communicate with the internet via touch and voice commands. The classes displayed information by a screen mounted above one eye or by sound. A camera also was included. Gift of Vinton Cerf