Archive: Computer Collector Newsletter / Technology Rewind, Jan. 2004 - March 2006
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Museums "discovered" in Texas and Colorado
by Evan Koblentz
Two weeks ago, we confirmed that H. Ross Perot is building his own computer museum at the Perot Sytems/Perot Group headquarters in Plano, Texas, and now we've got the details.
It's not quite a full-fledged museum. It's basically a very large and stand-alone but permanent exhibit, titled "A Moment In Time," said Libby Craft, who directs special projects for the computer services magnate and eccentric former presidential candidate. "It's his idea and he's really engineering what we're doing... It actually has been in place since last fall," she explained.
The exhibits, open for public tours, are being constructed in phases. Phase one is almost finished and contains straightforward but static displays of vintage computing gear and historical materials. Phase two is about to begin and will feature multimedia displays. Rather than just new productions, Perot's team hopes to find actual film and audio recordings of the systems in use. Beyond that, "If we do a phase three, what it would be is to look at how we could package this in more of an educational way," such as with exhibits for schools, computer camps, and the like, Craft said.
So what's in the collection, which grew with help from the Smithsonian and private contributions? So far they have a keypunch, sorter, Ramac 305, Sage drum memory, and a large amount of IBM hardware including a 729 tape drive, 407 accounting machine, 604 electronic calculator, and 521 card punch. They also have exhibits for the Hollerith tabulating machine, vacuum tubes, ENIAC, plug boards, transistors, and integrated circuits. Sellam Ismail, as always, summarized the collection in very frank perspective for us: "Holy shit, that's impressive. I guess when you have money and connections you can find anything."
Of course, if the machines aren't available, then no sum of money or connections can make them exist. But to arrange a tour of what they did acquire, email Craft at firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment. The tours are designed for the average person, not for a highly technical person, but it's worth taking just to see the artifacts. If requested, tours can include a Perot Systems data center, she said.
The interest in old computers is not a new one for Perot himself. "I think he's had this in the back of his mind for quite some time. Obviously he has a real affection for IBM machines, being a salesman for many years with IBM. He has been interested in trying to preserve this," Craft said.
Meanwhile, approximately 900 miles to the northwest, David Charles recently enlighted us with the story of his under-construction Colorado Computer Museum. It's located mostly in storage in the strangely named City of Loveland, an hour north of Denver.
Charles' team is currently seeking money to move their exhibits into a permanent facility. They have a unique angle: "I think one of the things that's unique about what we're trying to do is the idea of convergence. One of the things that's made computing technology so important is the way digital technology has converged with other things," he said. For example, with printers, "We could see the development of that technology both before and after computers started impacting it. So we'd show not just computing technology, but also how computing technology has impacted the world we live in," he explained.
Also, similar to Perot's multiphase plan, Charles explained his roadmap to us: "In addition to conventional 'timeline' exhibits and the 'convergence' exhibits... we also plan to do educational exhibits demonstrating how the underlying technology works and how it has changed over time. In addition to covering the general history of computing, we hope to be able to highlight the contributions local companies have made to the IT landscape in Colorado. We also hope to design a number of outreach programs including after-school and cooperative education programs for both gifted and at-risk youth, programs for senior citizens, etc.," he added, via an email message.
Charles' collecting interest began in the mid-1970s as a high school student. He joined an Explorer post sponsored by IBM in Boulder, Colorado, and quickly discovered that IBM's focus on new products led to the inadvertent brushing aside of older products' history.
"As I had opportunities, I just started picking up bits and pieces and setting them aside, not too long after I got out of college," he said. That began with a Data General Nova 3. "Engineering students and other people would come to my house just because they'd heard that I had interesting things," he said, only half-joking.
So whether you're a billionaire or just an ambitious nerd like the rest of us, new computer museums are forming in the U.S. south and midwest to suit everyone's tastes.