World’s oldest complete computer draws the crowds and sponsors

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World’s oldest complete computer is assembled

UKAEA becomes project’s second sponsor

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The Harwell / WITCH computer, the world’s oldest complete computer, arrived safely at The National Museum of Computing last week. Its framework was quickly assembled and already it has been seen by hundreds of visitors to the Museum. The restoration of the computer to working order, a huge task that is expected to take at least one year, has begun.

As the computer arrived (video here), UKAEA announced that it would take up a share in the Harwell / WITCH restoration project. The computer was originally used by its research team at Harwell for seven years in the 1950s. The UKAEA share purchase follows the purchase of a share by business process optimizers,

Announcing the UKAEA’s support, Chief Executive Officer Norman Harrison said “This computer is a tangible example of the UKAEA’s extraordinary achievements during the initial UK nuclear power programme. It demonstrates the groundbreaking science undertaken at Harwell, which continues to this day. I am very pleased that we can now help with restoring the computer to a functioning state for its new home in The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park.” (See the full UKAEA release here.)

Kevin Murrell, a director and trustee of TNMOC, said: “We are very grateful to UKAEA for purchasing the second share and hope that their involvement will encourage others. The public and media interest in the WITCH is terrific and it is quite obvious that lots of people are going to enjoy the ongoing story of the restoration. Visitors to the Museum will be able to watch the progress as it happens and we will be giving regular updates on the website.”

Tony Frazer, leader of the WITCH restoration team said: “The WITCH arrived in remarkably good condition after more than three decades of storage. We’ve assembled the frame and it now looks just as it did in its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. Our first task is to see what we can do with the power supply – we dare not just switch things on as time will have taken a toll on the chemistry and physics of the unit. Then we will be moving onto the thousands of wires and switches and the hundreds of Dekatron tubes. Although we have circuit diagrams, we can already identify wiring modifications, so this is going to require a lot of ingenuity.”

With the news of the restoration project, the three original designers have established contact with TNMOC. It is hoped that a reunion at the Museum will be possible in the coming weeks.

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