Computer Conservation Society celebrates its silver jubilee

Hailed as an outstanding success in achieving its ambitious aims, the Computer Conservation Society is 25 years old.

Millions have seen its working historic computers at close quarters in various museums across the UK and the machines it has reconstructed or restored, like Colossus, the Bombe, and the Manchester Baby and EDSAC, have become world-famous.

Established in 1989, the Computer Conservation Society started as a joint venture between BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, the Science Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. In recent years The National Museum of Computing has become a key partner.

In those 25 years, the skills and dedication of CCS volunteers have been evident in many bold and ambitious major restoration and reconstruction projects. Their work has established computer conservation standards and models that are now accepted internationally.

The first full reconstruction to be completed by the CCS was the Manchester Baby, ready in 1998 to mark the 50th anniversary of the original computer running the first stored program. The fully working Baby still attracts large crowds at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.

At Bletchley Park, two landmark CCS reconstructions are the wartime code-breaking Colossus Mark II at the National Museum of Computing at and the Bombe on display at the Bletchley Park Visitor Centre.

Restorations of original computers also include the 1950's Ferranti Pegasus and the 1960's ICT 1301 (Flossie), best known for its appearance in James Bond films.

More recent CCS projects include the restoration of the 1951 Harwell Dekatron (WITCH) computer, now recognised as the world’s oldest original working digital computer, and the ongoing reconstruction of the 1940's EDSAC computer, the first practical general purpose computer.

Sir Neil Cossons, Director of the Science Museum when CCS was founded and now Pro-Provost and Chairman of the Council of the Royal College of Art, said: 'The Computer Conservation Society seemed a rather novel concept 25 years ago. Today we wouldn’t question the idea, such has been the society's record of outstanding success and the public's growing appreciation that the computer has a profoundly important history that needs to be captured and reflected back to us through the material evidence.'

Doron Swade, who conceived the CCS idea and co-founded the organisation with the late Tony Sale, said: 'The combination of computers and conservation is a heady mix as we reflect on the extraordinary achievements of the pioneers of our digital age. At a time when many museums are increasingly moving to computer screen-based displays rather than artefacts or working objects, the CCS is providing live access to the very machines that have enabled this trend.'

Chair of the CCS Rachel Burnett highlighted some of the benefits of CCS activities: 'Computer conservation has both social and historical value. The conserved machines offer superb and unique learning opportunities. These working machines offer an unparalleled experience by showing how they actually work and what it was like to operate them. They help bridge generations and give youngsters a perspective of the unparalleled rate of change that continues in the world of computers today. Restoring and reconstructing historic machines draws people into levels of intimate detail with the machine in a way nothing else does. Operating these machines often produces unexpected findings that give greater insights.'

Sir Neil Cossons concluded: 'Putting working historic machines in front of the public makes a vivid and lasting impact - there is nothing like the real thing. Ensuring that the real thing, expertly restored and reconstructed, can speak to future generations will be the lasting legacy of the CCS.'

Membership of the CCS is open to anyone interested in computer conservation and the history of computing. It currently has over 1000 members world-wide.

For more information about the CCS, see www.computerconservationsociety.org