“I certainly had a ball using them in their heyday,” says Paul Allen, cofounder of Microsoft, about his computer collection that grew into the Living Computer Museum. It opened on October 25, 2012, and Ruth & I visited on November 25. Before it even realizes its unlimited possibilities, it’s already a 5 Compass attraction.
Keith began our tour by showing us a 1964 PDP-7 data processor, one of only 4 on Planet Earth. That’s him above holding a hard disc with a storage capacity of 1,000,000 bytes and telling us that Paul Allen said, “It’s possible to do amazing things with limited resources.” This is often proven true in LCM’s displays.
No matter your age, you will thoroughly enjoy a slow browse through those displays. I’ve been around long enough to remember keypunch cards and regularly crashing programs. For those under 21 with smart phones in their pockets that do the work, and more, of a 60s mainframe, LCM is a chance to learn what that gadget they take for granted evolved from. From geek to the technology-challenged, every visitor can’t help but learn.
In 1960 there were about 6,000 computers in the world filling air-conditioned rooms. One we saw was so noisy that Ruth needed ear plugs, which were available.
This Museum doesn’t just celebrate technology, it gives recognition to the men and women, often with startling vision, who made the computer revolution happen. For example, a consultant named Frederic G. Withington said, “One is led to envision 25 years from now minicomputers the size of a cigarette pack.” He said this in 1971. Inventor/genius Edson de Castro left Digital Equipment Corporation to start Data General. The mundane yet interesting story of why is in LCM.
If you were a programmer in the 1960’s, your interface was probably paper, as in keypunch, as in cards with holes. They came into wide use after making the first automated US census possible and were no longer used by the mid 1980s.
LCM’s huge 1966 PDP-7 made by DEC came from the University of Oregon where it was used to collect date from nuclear physics experiments. Talking to Keith, I sensed it’s both great fun & a challenge to locate historical computers and get them up and running for use in a museum whose mission statement says, “We make our systems accessible by allowing people to come and interact with them.” Indeed. I watched a number of visitors happily reliving the 80s on a version of their first beloved computer. And anyone out there who wants to do a totally noble act can donate an Apple 1 to LHM and make many people delirious.
At Bell Labs, Ken Thompson used another PCP-7 to write a game called Space Travel. And so it began.
The PDP-8/e was the first minicomputer. And so it began.
The IBM personal computer that gave the concept business legitimacy was introduced in 1981 with a capacity of up to 256 kilobytes. And so it began.
The Apple Mac with 128 kilobytes was unveiled in 1984. And so it began.
Windows 1.0 that gave buyers “a hard drive or 2 floppy discs” arrived in 1985. And so it began.
Take a minute and look at the photo below. Who are they?
Paul Allen at the keyboard and Bill Gates looking enthralled at Seattle’s Lakeside School in 1968. And so it began.
The Living Computer Museum is in an old grey warehouse in Sodo a few blocks from Seattle’s Safeco Field at 2245 First Avenue. Don’t miss it.