EDSAC shortlisted for prestigious ICON Award

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The EDSAC Project at TNMOC has been shortlisted for the 2015 Icon Conservation Awards.

In a year which ICON says has attracted a “huge increase in entries” across its six categories, EDSAC is one of two shortlisted entries in the Conservation of an Industrial Heritage Artefact category which recognises “excellence in engineering conservation of an artefact … that has significant volunteer engagement”.

Icon Chief Executive Alison Richmond said: “I’m absolutely delighted with the huge increase in entries this year, and thrilled about the range and calibre of those entries. We have a final list that reflects the diversity of the many wonderful conservation projects being undertaken by skilled professional conservators and dedicated volunteers throughout the UK.”

The EDSAC reconstruction project, which began in 2012, aims to reconstruct one of the most important early British digital computers. EDSAC was originally designed in 1947 by a team led by Sir Maurice Wilkes at the University of Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory. It operated for almost ten years and is widely regarded as one of the earliest general purpose stored program computers.

EDSAC is being reconstructed at The National Museum of Computing by a team composed entirely of volunteers led by Andrew Herbert, and initiated by a major pump-priming grant from the Hauser-Raspe Foundation.

Hardly any components of the original EDSAC have survived and no definitive record of the final design exists, so the team of volunteers has had to re-engineer the room-sized computer using fragmentary documentary evidence, personal recollections and reverse engineering by experts with skills in working with 1940s and 1950s technologies.

The Project is proving to be of enormous educational value and is on display for the many educational groups and general public visitors to The National Museum of Computing on Bletchley Park.

Andrew Herbert, leader of the EDSAC Project, said “We are enormously pleased to be shortlisted for a prestigious ICON Award. It is a great tribute to the ingenuity and dedication of the 25-strong volunteer team which has had to address many challenges including re-learning old skills to work with components that have long been superseded in the computing industry. We hope that our shortlisted project will serve to remind current computing specialists of the flair, enterprise and innovation displayed by our predecessors.”

Sponsored by Beko, the Icon Conservation Awards recognise the highest standards of conservation, research and collections care within the UK art and heritage sectors.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony on 22 October 2015 at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 1 Birdcage Walk, London. The other shortlisted entry in EDSAC’s category is the 1911 Steam Pinnace 199 conserved by volunteers at the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

To find out more about the EDSAC Project, see www.edsac.org and short videos telling the story of the reconstruction at http://www.tnmoc.org/special-projects/edsac/project-videos.

Notes To Editors


EDSAC, the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator, was built immediately after World War II by a team led by Sir Maurice Wilkes in the Mathematical Laboratory of the University of Cambridge. It was one of the first practical general purpose computers and was used by scientific researchers across the University. The EDSAC design was later developed to create LEO, the world's first business computer.

  • EDSAC was based on the ideas of John von Neumann and others who in 1945 suggested that the future of computing lay in computers which could store sets of instructions (programs) as well as data in a memory.
  • EDSAC was over two metres high and occupied a ground area of four metres by five metres.
  • Pre-dating the transistor, its 3000+ thermionic valves / vacuum tubes used as logic were arranged on 12 racks containing just over 140 chassis in total.
  • Mercury-filled tubes were used for the main memory, comprising 512 words initially, later 1024 word (equivalent to 2KB/4KB of PC storage).
  • It performed 650 instructions per second, effectively computing more than 1500 times faster than the mechanical calculators it replaced.
  • EDSAC read in programs from paper tape and printed its results on a teleprinter.
  • EDSAC ran its first program on 6 May 1949 and soon after that began nine years of regular service for scientific users across the University of Cambridge and other institutions, ending in July 1958 when it was dismantled to enable the re-use of precious space. By then it had been superseded by the faster and much larger EDSAC 2.

2 The National Museum of Computing

The National Museum of Computing, located on Bletchley Park, is an independent charity housing the world's largest collection of functional historic computers, including the rebuilt Colossus, the world’s first electronic computer, and the WITCH, the world's oldest working digital computer. The Museum enables visitors to follow the development of computing from the ultra-secret pioneering efforts of the 1940s through the large systems and mainframes of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and the rise of personal computing in the 1980s and beyond.

A pledge by an individual benefactor of £1 million if matched funding is found means that every pound or dollar donated to the Museum will count double. Previous funders of the Museum have included Bletchley Park Capital Partners, Bloomberg, CreateOnline, Ceravision, InsightSoftware.com, Ocado Technology, FUZE, 4Links, Google UK, IBM, NPL, HP Labs, and BCS.

The whole Museum is currently open to the public from 12 noon on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, spring and summer Bank Holidays and during school holidays. The Colossus and Tunny galleries are open daily. Public and Private Guided tours are available and bookable online - see the website or the iPhone app for details. Educational and corporate group visits are available by prior arrangement.

For more information, see www.tnmoc.org and follow @tnmoc on Twitter and The National Museum of Computing on Facebook and Google+. A TNMOC iPhone App is also now available from the iPhone App Store.

Media Contacts

Stephen Fleming
01635 299116

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