Computer History Museum exhibition displays 50 year-old IBM Computers

. December 5, 2013

The Computer History Museum presents its latest visitor experience: the IBM 1401 Demo Lab (Demo Lab).

The Demo Lab features the machine that transformed data processing and became one of the most popular computers of all time, the IBM 1401 Data Processing System (IBM 1401). Visitors to the Demo Lab will travel back in time to 1959 and experience the sights and sounds of a business computer center of the era. This exhibit accurately re-creates a working medium-scale computer operation from the 1960s, including working keypunches, printers, card readers, sorters and tape drives.

IBM 1401 was introduced in 1959, a time when the post-war population was booming and institutions and businesses from every corner of society were expanding rapidly. Traditional methods, based on punched cards and the mechanical equipment that processed them, were not keeping pace with the sheer volume and complexity of this growing world. The IBM 1401 was the perfect solution and its impact was dramatic: by 1965, nearly half of all computers in the world were IBM 1401 systems.

Two complete IBM 1401 systems, 45 and 48 years old respectively, were brought back to life by a team of 20 Museum volunteers of mostly retired IBM engineers who had earlier supported 1401s in design, manufacturing, and at customer sites. The successful restoration highlights the strength of the 1401’s design and the outstanding reliability of its mechanical and solid state components. The restoration team logged over 20,000 hours in 500 work sessions over 10 years.

A preview opening of the Demo Lab will be held this evening for Museum trustees, volunteers, private donors and IBM executives. Live demonstrations will be staged throughout the evening and guests will hear the story of the restoration from IBM Restoration Project Lead, Robert Garner and IBM 1401 Program Manager, Chuck Branscomb, who led the IBM 1401’s original development beginning in 1957.

Weekly demonstrations of the historic restored machines will be held on Wednesdays at 3 p.m.

“The Demo Lab ties the past to the future by vividly illustrating how a landmark system worked in the 1960s and how far we’ve come as a society in 50 years of hyper-progress in computing,” said John Hollar, Museum President and CEO. “We’re delighted to bring this vintage, hands-on experience to the public and to use it as a jumping-off point for our extended exploration of computing’s history and impact.”

Other demonstrated and restored projects- the DEC PDP-1 Lab, Babbage Difference Engine No. 2 and IBM Ramac Machine, are all available for demonstration at the Museum.

Funding for the IBM 1401 restoration project and Demo Lab was provided by various major donors including Gardner Hendrie and Karen Johansen, Dorrit and Grant Saviers, IBM Corporation, Robin Beresford and Robert Garner, Donna Dubinsky and Len Shustek, Jack and Casey Carsten, David E. Liddle and Ruthann Quindlen, John and Sheree Shoch, Ronald C. Crane, Bernard L. Peuto and Anne Bertaud-Peuto, Mike Cheponis, Allen and Barbara Palmer, Ron Williams, Steve Wozniak, Charles E. Branscomb and Robert and Roxanne Brubaker.

For more information and updates, call (650) 810-1059, visit www.computerhistory.org,

Category: Exhibition News

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