Computer History Museum

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Computer History Museum
Computer history museum.jpg
Computer History Museum
Established1996;25 years ago (1996)
Location Mountain View, California, US
Coordinates 37°24′52″N122°04′37″W / 37.414371°N 122.076817°W / 37.414371; -122.076817 Coordinates: 37°24′52″N122°04′37″W / 37.414371°N 122.076817°W / 37.414371; -122.076817

The Computer History Museum (CHM) is a museum of computer history, located in Mountain View, California. The museum presents stories and artifacts of Silicon Valley and the information age, and explores the computing revolution and its impact on society.



The museum's origins date to 1968 when Gordon Bell began a quest for a historical collection and, at that same time, others were looking to preserve the Whirlwind computer. The resulting Museum Project had its first exhibit in 1975, located in a converted coat closet in a DEC lobby. In 1978, the museum, now The Digital Computer Museum (TDCM), moved to a larger DEC lobby in Marlborough, Massachusetts. Maurice Wilkes presented the first lecture at TDCM in 1979 – the presentation of such lectures has continued to the present time.

TDCM incorporated as The Computer Museum (TCM) in 1982. In 1984, TCM moved to Boston, locating on Museum Wharf.

In 1996/1997, the TCM History Center (TCMHC) was established; a site at Moffett Field was provided by NASA (an old building that was previously the Naval Base furniture store) and a large number of artifacts were shipped there from TCM.

In 1999, TCMHC incorporated and TCM ceased operation, shipping its remaining artifacts to TCMHC in 2000. The name TCM had been retained by the Boston Museum of Science so, in 2000, the name TCMHC was changed to Computer History Museum (CHM).

In 2002, CHM opened its new building, previously occupied by Silicon Graphics, at 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd in Mountain View, California, to the public. [1] [2] The facility was later heavily renovated and underwent a two-year $19 million makeover before reopening in January 2011. [3]

John Hollar, a former media executive, was appointed CEO in July 2008. [4] Dan'l Lewin, a former technology executive, replaced Hollar as CEO in March 2018. [5]

Collections and exhibition space

Steve Russell, creator of Spacewar!, operating the PDP-1 at the Computer History Museum Steve Russell-PDP-1-20070512.jpg
Steve Russell, creator of Spacewar! , operating the PDP-1 at the Computer History Museum
A modern recreation of Charles Babbage's Difference Engine on display at the Computer History Museum Difference Engine Computer History Museum - Aug 2015.jpg
A modern recreation of Charles Babbage's Difference Engine on display at the Computer History Museum

The Computer History Museum claims to house the largest and most significant collection of computing artifacts in the world (the Heinz Nixdorf Museum , Paderborn, Germany, has more items on display but a far smaller total collection [6] ). This includes many rare or one-of-a-kind objects such as a Cray-1 supercomputer as well as a Cray-2, Cray-3, the Utah teapot, the 1969 Neiman Marcus Kitchen Computer, an Apple I, and an example of the first generation of Google's racks of custom-designed web servers. [7] The collection comprises nearly 90,000 objects, photographs and films, as well as 4,000 ft (1,200 m) of cataloged documentation and several hundred gigabytes of software.

The CHM oral history program conducts video interviews around the history of computing, This includes computer systems, networking, data-processing, memory, and data-storage. There are over 1,000 interviews recorded as of 2021, including panel discussions on the origins of the IBM PC and the hard disk drive, and individual interviews with Joanna Hoffman, Steve Chen, Dame Stephanie Shirley, and Donald Knuth. [8]

The museum's 25,000 sq ft (2,300 m2) exhibit "Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing," opened to the public on January 13, 2011. It covers the history of computing in 20 galleries, from the abacus to the Internet. The entire exhibition is also available online. [9] [10] [11]

The museum has a Liquid Galaxy in the "Going Places: A History of Silicon Valley" exhibit. The exhibit has 20 preselected locations that visitors can fly to on the Liquid Galaxy. [12]

Other exhibits include a restoration of an historic PDP-1 minicomputer, two restored IBM 1401 computers, and an exhibit on the history of autonomous vehicles, from torpedoes to self-driving cars.

An operating Difference Engine designed by Charles Babbage in the 1840s and constructed by the Science Museum of London was on display until January 31, 2016. It had been on loan since 2008 from its owner, Nathan Myhrvold, a former Microsoft executive. [13]

In 2010 the museum began with the collection of source code of important software, beginning with Apple's MacPaint 1.3, written in a combination of Assembly and Pascal and available as download for the public. [14] [15] In 2012 the APL programming language followed. [16] In February 2013 Adobe Systems, Inc. donated the Photoshop 1.0.1 source code to the collection. [17] [18] On March 25, 2014 Microsoft followed with the source code donation of SCP MS-DOS 1.25 and a mixture of Altos MS-DOS 2.11 and TeleVideo PC DOS 2.11 as well as Word for Windows 1.1a under their own license. [19] [20] On October 21, 2014, Xerox Alto's source code and other resources followed. [21]

Past exhibits

On June 23, 1990, the Walk-Through Computer exhibit opened to help visitors learn how computers work. [22] The interactive exhibit included a desktop computer, a giant monitor, a 25-foot keyboard, and a 40-inch diameter trackball (initially planned to be a "bumper-car sized mouse") used by visitors to control the World Traveler program. In the Software Theater, animation and hardware video is used alongside a video feed of the World Traveler Program to show how computer programs work. [23] This exhibit was closed on August 5th, 1995, and re-opened as the Walk-Through Computer 2000 on October 21, 1995 to include an updated monitor, 3D graphics, and more interactive features. One of these features allowed visitors to change the pits imprinted on a giant CD-ROM, and the changes are seen on a monitor. [24]


The CHM Fellows are exceptional men and women 'whose ideas have changed the world [and] affected nearly every human alive today'. The first fellow was Rear Admiral Grace Hopper in 1987. The fellows program has grown to 84 members as of 2019. [25]

See also

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  2. Backgrounder Archived 2005-03-01 at the Wayback Machine Press release on the Computer History Museum
  3. "COMPUTER HISTORY MUSEUMS MAJOR NEW EXHIBITION OPENS". Computer History Museum. Archived from the original on January 3, 2017. Retrieved March 5, 2017.
  4. CHM profile of John Hollar
  5. CHM Press Release, February 27, 2018. Dan’l Lewin appointed CEO
  6. Heinz Nixdorf Museum Archived 2011-07-09 at the Wayback Machine
  7. How Google Works David F. Carr,, July 6, 2006
  8. Computer History Museum: Oral History Collection
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  12. "David Laws' App Shines in New Exhibit at Computer History Museum". BATW. Archived from the original on 2017-01-06. Retrieved 2017-01-06.
  13. Difference Engine Leaves Computer History Museum Archived 2016-03-02 at the Wayback Machine , Mark Moack, Mountain View Voice, January 28, 2016
  14. "MacPaint and QuickDraw Source Code". Computer History Museum. July 20, 2010. Archived from the original on August 22, 2012.
  15. Hesseldahl, Erik (2010-07-20). "Apple Donates MacPaint Source Code To Computer History Museum". Archived from the original on 2012-02-09.
  16. Shustek, Len (2012-10-10). "The APL Programming Language Source Code". Archived from the original on 2013-10-07. Retrieved 2013-10-15.
  17. Bishop, Bryan (2013-02-14). "Adobe releases original Photoshop source code for nostalgic developers". Archived from the original on 2014-01-17. Retrieved 2013-10-15.
  18. Adobe Photoshop Source Code Archived May 7, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  19. Shustek, Len (2014-03-24). "Microsoft Word for Windows Version 1.1a Source Code". Archived from the original on 2014-03-28. Retrieved 2014-03-29.
  20. Levin, Roy (2014-03-25). "Microsoft makes source code for MS-DOS and Word for Windows available to public". Official Microsoft Blog. Archived from the original on 2014-03-28. Retrieved 2014-03-29. (NB. While the author and publishers claim the package would include MS-DOS 1.1 and 2.0, it actually contains SCP MS-DOS 1.25 and a mixture of files from Altos MS-DOS 2.11 and TeleVideo PC DOS 2.11.)
  21. McJones, Paul (2014-10-21). "Xerox Alto Source Code - The roots of the modern personal computer". Software Gems: The Computer History Museum Historical Source Code Series. Computer History Museum. Archived from the original on 2015-01-02. Retrieved 2015-01-08. With the permission of the Palo Alto Research Center, the Computer History Museum is pleased to make available, for non-commercial use only, snapshots of Alto source code, executables, documentation, font files, and other files from 1975 to 1987.
  22. "Walk Through Computer".
  23. "The Software Theater".
  24. "The Walk Through Computer 2000" (PDF).
  25. "Fellow Awards - CHM". Computer History Museum. Retrieved 2020-04-27.

Further reading