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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Computer History Museum - Mountain View, California

This is part 2 of my visit to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.  Part 1, featuring calculators and punched cards, can be found here.

The current exhibit at the museum is titled "Revolution" and covers a wide range of topics including early personal computers and even game systems.

I had a particular interest in the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC).  This is the computer memorialized on the marker on the Iowa State campus.  I photographed the marker a few months back for this post and Cliff Berry's boyhood home for this post.

The reconstructed ABC had been on the Iowa State campus but now resides here at the Mountain View museum.  Two key components are the memory drum and the adder circuits.  Both were remarkable original contributions to the state of the art in 1940.
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Another memory drum from the early 1950s was on display, this being one from St. Paul's ERA.  The museum displayed this with the drum and heads exposed, something I had never seen portrayed elsewhere. Notice the staggered heads.

And Williams tube memory!  Here are three samples including one from the SWAC (note that this one is on loan from Harry Huskey himself) and another that might be straight out of Freddie Williams lab in England.
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Speed and reliability killed those early memories off pretty quickly and magnetic core memory came to dominate the field in the 1960s.  These core memory exhibits come from Fabri-Tek.
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Never heard of Fabri-Tek?  Well lets go to the Eau Claire (Wisconsin) Daily Telegram for March 24, 1962.  Fabri-Tek was preparing to open a new plant in Eau Claire in addition to expanding its main production facility in Amery, Wisconsin.  A couple of paragraphs from the article:
  ... The company has had a consistent record of growth each year and expects this to continue.  (Company president, Mike) Mickelson started Fabri-Tek just five years ago in the basement of his St. Paul home. His initial investment in equipment was $15.  Growth of the firm since then has been rapid.

 ... About 400 persons are employed in the three divisions with that figure to jump another 150 this year when the firm completes its move into the plant addition at Amery.

 ... MOST OF THE employees here, as they are in Amery will be housewives. The memory planes and stacks f o r computers are made up of thousands of tiny wires and are constructed by hand.
The museum has a Teletype Model 33 terminal along with one of those classy Anderson-Jacobson 300 baud modems in a wooden box.  (Note that the teletype was not running at that high of a speed - that was a 110 baud device!)  This was the "modern era" of timesharing from around 1968 when Pillsbury was in the timeshare service business with Pillsbury Call-A-Computer and crosstown rival, General Mills was manufacturing computers.  Ahhhh, those were the days.
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And of course, the museum presents a System 360 console.  (Model 30)  This was the machine that changed it all and got almost everyone onto the same page.

The 360 architecture dominated the industry from its announcement in April of 1964 through the next thirty years or more.  And that was in no small part because IBM developed machines that could string those memory cores as lower cost than the housewives in Amery.


scott davidson said...

I could choose to fit the canvas print that I was ordering from wahooart.com to the pattern and color of the wallpaper in my living room. I could search for artwork by subject matter and even predominant colors. Then I customized the frame online because the site allowed me to match the frame style with different wallpapers, one of which looked like ours.
So now have this canvas print by Pierre Bonnard, http://en.wahooart.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT4PD

mahasiswa teladan said...

hi..Im college student, thanks for sharing :)

Jeremy Nichols said...

Even though I was raised in Wisconsin in the 1940s-1960s, I'd never heard of Fabri-Tek either until I bought an old HP oscilloscope on eBay and it had Fabri-Tek asset tags on it. Searching for information on the company I found your blog. Glad you enjoyed your visit to the computer museum. I'll have to visit some day, I'm less than 100 miles away.