Computer History Museum chronicles an incredible journey
Feb. 21, 2011
by Mark Ollig

Fresh from a $19 million restoration, the Computer History Museum located in Mountain View, CA., re-opened with a new exhibit called Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing.

The Computer History Museum has been at this location since 2002 and houses a computing history collection of about 100,000 historical artifacts spread across 125,000 square feet.

It also includes a cafe, gift shop, theater, and educational facilities.

According to its president and CEO John Hollar, the Computer History Museum “represents a very sweeping history of computing; it covers everything from the abacus to the smartphone.”

In addition to being a “Garden of Eden” for computer geeks, it is also an appealing place for non-techie folks to visit.

Inside the museum, there are 19 major exhibit spaces or “conclaves” containing significant computing industry milestones for visitors to look at.

The exhibits begin with the earliest computing device: ancient counting machines.

Inside one conclave, visitors will see the story of the historic counting tool called an abacus.

The evolution to electronic and then mainframe computers, followed by the progression to advanced supercomputers, are all displayed.

Many of the earliest personal computers are also there.

Visual displays in another exhibit show-and-tell the story of the first integrated electronic circuits, which were put together in the late 1950s.

Information is presented in a non-technical way, making it easier for people to learn how the computing devices they use in their daily lives were created.

Len Shustek, a former teacher, is currently a Computer History Museum board member.

He recently talked about his favorite computer at the museum in a video I watched.

The computer system Shustek says he used as a college student in the 1960s, was an IBM 7094 scientific computer.

The IBM 7094 was an advanced, solid-state data processing system first installed in 1962.

This large-scale computing system sold for $3,134,500.

In one second, the IBM 7094 could perform 500,000 logical decisions, 250,000 additions or subtractions, 100,000 multiplications or 62,500 divisions.

IBM stopped selling the 7094 in 1969.

Many of the original computer programmers and individuals who actually designed some of the computers being displayed will come to the Computer History Museum. According to Shustek, they find the experience like visiting old friends. These people can relate to the vintage hardware and software platforms because of their prior association with them.

One computing artifact at the museum this NASA space program devotee would like to look at is the original Apollo command module Guidance Computer System.

The Apollo Guidance Computer was first used on Apollo 7 as it orbited the earth in 1968.

In 1969, this same-style guidance system aided Apollo 11 to the moon. The astronauts in the command module would punch two-digit codes and press the proper set of words on its display and keyboard unit in order to communicate with it.

Some of the originally built Apple I and II computers are exhibited in the museum, along with the Sinclair ZX80 and many other earlier home computers.

People who visit the Computer History Museum will no doubt find the very first computer model they ever used somewhere on display.

The museum’s collection of computers, along with software and much of the printed material are mostly donated by private individuals and corporations.

Some of the hardware stored there includes the first Google data server, and three Cray-1 supercomputers designed by “the father of supercomputing,” Seymour Cray, who graduated from The University of Minnesota in 1949.

Not only is the story of computing hardware shown in this museum, but also the story of computing software.

As we all know, computers require software in order for them to perform their functions.

Software doesn’t really have the tangible artifacts which can be seen and held like computer hardware, so it is a bit more challenging to exhibit.

The Computer History Museum’s Software Preservation Group (SPG), collects and preserves early computing software.

The software presentations focus attention on the stories from the people involved with its creation, which in itself, is historically noteworthy.

One of these collections includes FORTRAN (Formula Translating System) software developed in the mid 1950s by the late John Backus when he worked for IBM.

The SPG area of the museum contains collections of software design documents and videos which, catalog many of the historical operating systems and software programs created over the years.

Explaining the roles they played in computing history, early computing pioneers such as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, have given pubic speaking engagements at the museum.

Len Shustek stated, “It’s our goal to create a permanent institution to preserve and to celebrate the history of the information revolution.”

The YouTube channel for the Computer History Museum can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/bxqhn5.

I encourage you to visit this channel and view the many historic and information-packed videos provided by the Computer History Museum.

Begin your journey to The Computer History Museum’s website at http://www.computerhistory.org.

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