World's Oldest Working Computer Comes Back to Life
November 20, 2012 2:06 PM
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The Witch is being unveiled at a ceremony at the National Museum of Computing today
The world's oldest original
working digital computers
has been restored and brought back to life in a UK museum.
The computer, called the Witch (short for Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computation from Harwell), is from the 1950s and was used to replace adding machines.
The Witch was first designed and and built in 1949 to help the UK's Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell in Oxfordshire with calculations. In 1951, the 2.5 tonne computer was ran for the first time. However, at that point, the Witch was called the Harwell Dekatron.
The Harwell Dekatron took up to about 10 seconds to multiply two numbers, and was used about 80 hours per week. But in 1957, smaller and faster computers hit the scene, and the Harwell Dekatron was moved to the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Technical College to teach programming. This is where it acquired its new name, the Witch.
Later, in 1973, it was donated to Birmingham's Museum of Science and Industry, where it was displayed until 1997 when the museum closed. From there, the Witch was taken apart and stored.
The Witch had been forgotten until a trustee from The National Museum of Computing, named Kevin Murrell, noticed the Witch's control panel in a photograph brought in by another computer conservationist. He recognized the parts after having seen the Witch many times as a teenager.
This led to the restoration effort for the Witch, where it's piece were found in storage and reassembled. After cleaning it up and replacing a few parts, the Witch is alive again. About 480 relays and 828 Dekatron tubes are all original on the computer, making the Witch nearly completely original to its former 1950s self.
The Witch is being unveiled at a ceremony at the National Museum of Computing today.
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11/21/2012 10:30:48 AM
But can they do it continuously for 80 hours a week without making any mistakes?
"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov
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