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Science and Industry Museum

Special celebrations for the 70th anniversary of modern computing

Scientist who worked on original Baby computer to attend event

Revisit the beginnings of the computer age with talks from Dame Mary Archer DBE and Dr James Sumner

New items added to Science Museum Group collection

For immediate release

At 11.00 on 21 June, 1948, the world changed—for the modern computer age was born in Manchester.

On that groundbreaking day, the Small Scale Experimental Machine, or 'Baby', became the first computer to run a stored program. 52 minutes later, history had been made. 

This month, the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society invite visitors to revisit the beginnings of the computer age by attending their 2018 Manchester Lecture at the Museum of Science and Industry, home of the world’s only working replica of the Baby computer. 

Among the special guests who have been invited to the celebrations is 90-year-old Professor David “Dai” Edwards, who 70 years ago was a young scientist and part of the pioneering team behind the world’s first stored program computer. Professor Edwards worked on Baby as it was expanded into the Manchester Mark 1, which led the way to the world’s first commercially available general-purpose computer.

The Manchester Lecture is part of a special evening of celebrations on 21 June, which starts at 18.00. After a chance to see Baby working, attendees will be welcomed by the President of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, Dr Diana Leitch MBE, who will invite Dame Mary Archer DBE, Chair of the Science Museum Group, to give a short talk entitled From Babbage to the Baby: the Science Museum Group’s Computer Collection.

Dr James Sumner, Lecturer in the History of Technology at the University of Manchester, will then deliver a talk entitled Bringing up Baby: Establishing and Promoting Computers in Manchester, running through the history of Baby from the principle that inspired its building to the computers that would succeeded it.

Visitors will also be able to see a new acquisition for the first time, as a piece of test equipment for Baby—a capacitor—is handed over to the group by Peter Tootill, the son of one of Baby’s builders, Geoff Tootill, who worked on the project with Tom Kilburn and Frederic C Williams.

Baby was the first computer ever to run a stored program. It completed its task in 52 minutes, having run through 3.5 million calculations in order to get to the correct answer. Without this ground-breaking work, the developments that led to all modern computing would have been impossible.   

Baby’s designer was Sir Freddie Williams, who was born in Stockport. With wartime colleagues, Tom Kilburn and Geoff Tootill, Williams moved from perfecting radar to work on the concept that computers could be made to remember a program. This concept was successfully proven on 21 June 1948.

The basic principles used in today’s computer memory can be traced back to Baby.

Now members of the public have the opportunity to learn about the history of this revolutionary machine, which is part of the distinguished scientific and technological innovations of Manchester, and see it working.  

Tickets for the event are free. For more information, and to book, visit the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society website

Notes to editors

About the Baby anniversary celebrations

With the world’s only working replica of Baby—built 20 years ago with some of the original parts—on display at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, the museum will be hosting events to celebrate the anniversary of this world-changing machine. The first will be a lecture organised by the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society on 21 June, while on 23 and 24 June there will be a number of family-oriented events.

For more information or images, please contact Megan McTigue at the Museum of Science and Industry on Megan.McTigue@msimanchester.org.uk.

ABOUT THE MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY

The Museum of Science and Industry tells the story of where science met industry and the modern world began. Manchester was one of the first global, industrial cities, and its epic rise, decline and resurrection has been echoed in countless other cities around the world. From textiles to computers, the objects and documents held in the museum’s collection tell stories of everyday life over the last 200 years, from light bulbs to locomotives.  The museum’s mission is to inspire all its visitors, including future scientists and inventors, with the story of how ideas can change the world, from the industrial revolution to today and beyond. 

The Museum of Science and Industry is part of the Science Museum Group, a family of museums which also includes the Science Museum in London; the National Railway Museum in York and Shildon; and the Science and Media Museum in Bradford. The Science Museum Group is devoted to the history and contemporary practice of science, medicine, technology, industry and media. With 5 million visitors each year and an unrivalled collection, it is the most significant group of museums of science and innovation worldwide.

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