Trip to Computer History Museum, California

The Computer History Museum (CHM) is located in the heart of Silicon Valley and contains hallmark artifacts which have transformed the way people around the globe live, work and play. This museum explores the history of computing, its ongoing impact and its future technological, social and economic implications, through unparalleled collections and exhibits.

As a technology geek, when an event at my company was going to be hosted at CHM, I naturally jumped at the opportunity and registered for it. After the event got over, I decided to tour the museum with my colleague.

We started off the collections tour with the calculating devices, compasses, slider rule, logarithmic tables and early calculators. Using the Multi-media exhibits, we were able to understand how the slider rule and the abacus were used.

slide rule
Understanding the Slide Rule

The tour continues with the Birth of the computers, Memory & Storage devices, Supercomputers and then ventures into AI & Robotics, PC, and Mobile Computing and to the latest Web technologies.

While touring the museum, you can’t ignore the many contributions of IBM to the computer age. Some of the legendary products of IBM are put on for display. The Hollerith Machine helped US government complete the 1890 census in record time – and in the process launched the use of punched cards in business. The IBM/USAF SAGE Air Defense system in 1961 developed by IBM was a real-time computing system and at one time involved some 60% of the world’s programmers. Also we saw the IBM RAMAC Disk drive which was the world’s first disk drive invented by IBM in 1953 in order to process data faster than using punched cards. This stack of 50 disks held about 3.8 MB of data.

IBM RAMAC Disk Drive on the left side of the picture

In this museum, we also come to know of contributions of women in the history of computing, from business to leadership, from engineering to marketing the products. These pioneers influenced the design and programming of some of the first computers and languages, and laid the groundwork for women’s expanding involvement in technology and business. We took a look at the exhibit of Grace Hopper where her work in early computers and development of advanced software programs was showcased. She was also involved in the development of the COBOL programming language. Thereafter, we came across an interesting invention by Honeywell called Kitchen Computer which was a system for housewives to store their recipes.

Honeywell’s Kitchen Computer

There were many other artifacts like the Apple-1, Atari Ping prototype, Shakey the Robot etc. One of the notable presentations in Computer Graphics was the revolution that came when a Bit became a Pixel. It was very informative and showed the journey from Pong games to the latest computer-animated films.

Overall, I loved the presentation of the collections, combined with backstories and media stations with vintage footage, providing a rich and fascinating account of the evolution of computing. Without these countless innovations, discoveries and risks, perhaps I would not be sharing my enjoyable visit on this blog! Indeed, CHM is a good place to spend an enjoyable afternoon learning about the people who have made this huge impact on our society.