Bringing up Baby: establishing and promoting computers in Manchester

9 May 2018

Baby - one of the world’s first computers celebrates it’s 70th anniversary on 21 June. To mark the occasion, a fully working replica of Baby - built by BCS Computer Conservation Society (part of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT) - will be running on the day to coincide with a special lecture at Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) where the replica is located.

Chris Burton, from BCS Computer Conservation Society - who led the Baby replica project - will be attending the event. A group of volunteers from MSI will be giving a demonstration of Baby in operation - so the public can get a chance to see the historically significant machine in action.

Chris explains: “Baby could, through running different programs, do different jobs and solve different problems. Previously, individual computers were built to solve specific problems, but Baby changed everything. This was the first time, anywhere in the world, that a program stored in an electronic memory was executed successfully.

“Though little of the original machine still existed, the team had access to photographs, diagrams, and notebooks all created by Baby’s original builders. At 11am on 21 June 1998, the Small-Scale Experimental Machine SSEM replica reran the first ever stored memory program. The replica was donated to the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry - where it lives today and, far from being retired, it gives regular demonstrations of true vintage computing. Our ambition is to keep the replica going for another generation, though skills, spares and materials are becoming increasingly scarce.”

Computer restoration has become a thriving international movement and projects such as Baby have substantial social and public value. It remains the most-visited pre-1950s working stored-program computer anywhere in the world. Whether or not the replica will be able to run in 10 years’ time to celebrate Baby’s 80th birthday remains to be seen.

The Lecture, entitled 'Bringing up Baby: establishing and promoting computers in Manchester' will be presented by Dr James Sumner from the Centre for the History of Science Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester.

Organised by the Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society - the lecture will explore the creation of the world's first stored-program computer known as 'The Baby' which first worked on 21 June 1948 at the University of Manchester.

Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society - Discussion for lively minds

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