“My Computing Devices” Opens at National Museum of American History

New Display Highlights Human and Machine Interactions
July 17, 2019
An old, yellowed computer

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will present “My Computing Devices” Aug. 28 through August 2020. The 30-foot display will offer a look at the complex story of America’s relationship with and innovation, experimentation and ownership of computing devices. The devices show the personal and tangible symbols of ideas, expertise and unique needs filled by them.

The display divides the topic into two sections: the “mechanical” world and the “electronic” world, showcasing the differences between mechanical devices that came before the 1940s and the electronic devices that came after. With objects dating from 1840 to 2013, including a Hewlett-Packard calculator, Simon gaming device, TRS-80 Model 100 microcomputer, iPad and Google Glass computerized glasses, the display provides a concise look at how mechanical and electronic devices alike were instrumental in ushering in the digital age. Some objects, such as a slide rule, were tools used to perform basic calculations or supplement the daily work of scientists, business people and engineers. Other objects were designed for entertainment, which provided a platform for digitalized gaming and internet usage to thrive.

One artifact is Nannie Helen Burroughs’ cash register from the year 1905. Burroughs was the president of a business college for African American students in Washington, D.C., until her death in 1961. The display also features the notebook of Grace Hopper. Hopper and her colleagues at Remington-Rand UNIVAC in Philadelphia developed compilers—computer programs that translated from one programming language to another. These early compilers made it easier to program mainframe computers. Hopper’s notebook demonstrates the individual expression of early coders and the importance of compilers, which are in millions of individual computing devices today.

Visitors can engage directly with the technological evolution of “My Computing Devices” through an interactive photo opportunity: a mirror in the display provides a spot for visitors to take a photo of themselves with their own computing devices. The station invites visitors to reflect on the personal relationship they have with their devices and the influence of the latest electronic models—some right in their own hands.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. For more information, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. The museum is located on Constitution Avenue, between 12th and 14th streets N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

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