Manchester Baby: world's first stored program computer

In about 1966 I asked Professor Kilburn, why is it whenever I open a computer science textbook I get the
American origins of computers but the Brits are nowhere? So Tom took his pipe out of his mouth
and said those who need to know do know What was special about the Baby was that
such a computer can be used for a wide variety, perhaps almost
an infinite variety of problems It was an engineering testbed to test out the reliability of
a memory invention The central problem of the computer was recognised to be the
problem of storage and so the problem was quite simply brought to my notice Cathode ray tubes were used widely during the
second world war for radar purposes It's a way of displaying electronic
signals on a screen that you can see In a Williams and Kilburn storage tube each little element of the screen was excited by the electrons
and became charged and each area of stored charge was made to
represent a binary digit, a 1 or a 0 F.C. was a member of the telecommunication
research establishment which was called TRE At the end of the war he was offered a
post at Manchester university and he accepted with enthusiasm and he took one of his chaps, Tom Kilburn
and also asked for other bright young men, so I was the next one It was a very exciting time, there were a very small number of people who
worked together very closely indeed Tom Kilburn worked on the CRT memory and in about a year
he'd actually moved from one bit of storage to one thousand to two thousand
bits of storage In December '47 what had arrived was a memory which could show
static pictures now what we needed to check was
that those pictures could actually change, be recorded properly, and do that
at electronic speeds. That's really why the Baby was built It consisted of 6 ft 6" high post office racks, 23 inches wide all round the laboratory It was just a simple room It had no air conditioning so we always
had windows open and things in those days, you know, to keep the temperature sensible This was the centre of Manchester
and in with the fresh air came the dirt Tom and I wore lab coats a long coat down to your mid-thighs or knees We avoided electric shocks by the
classic artifice of keeping one hand in your pocket all the
time and never to touch anything with both hands at once We had a couple of technical staff
who did did the actual building One of the best wiremen we had was Ida Fitzgerald I think was her surname She delivered the chassis wired to our diagram and we would look at it and say oh dear, I
didn't mean to do that and we would proceed to alter Ida's neat wiring Tom Kilburn and Geoff Tootill had
been struggling for some days The machine kept failing, perhaps it was a
wiring error or some soldered joint had failed and then one day it all held together and
worked not just once but twice but three times and they realised we've made it Finally when we pressed the start button it set off on this usual dance of death and then suddenly it stopped and there in the expected line was the expected answer so we'd built a computing machine We went out to lunch in the canteen as
usual, and we were actually having lunch instead of having brought in sandwiches, that
was the way we celebrated What was needed now was to develop both
the programming side and the arithmetic side to develop
this universal machine The Baby was then expanded over the next
18 months to create the Manchester University Mark 1
computer. It was made about three times bigger, it had a lot
more store and so on By then, as far as the engineers were concerned,
the Baby computer was old hat There's nothing left at all of the Baby or the expanded Baby In fact the racks that the Baby and the
expanded Baby were built on were used for the next machine that we built In 1994 I realised that in four years time it
would be the 50th anniversary of the Baby computer. I put together a
proposal as to how we could build a replica of that original machine Tom Kilburn and I both vetted it
and approved it and as we said to each other when we
saw it, oh this is all wrong of course, it's nice and clean We completed the replica build
and re-enacted the running of the world's first program They operated the switches, the program ran,
they stood back, watched it on the display tube, saw the answer was correct
and then turned away and grinned at the audience, as if to say
there we can do it again Normally the people who did
the original work tend to fade into obscurity In England it's scientists and theoreticians
who tend to get the glory It's good that we remember the
contribution of the electronic engineers to the information age, to the
second industrial revolution if you like Manchester University now has a
Tom Kilburn building which in fact contains two laboratories
known as the Tootill laboratories Computers are everywhere today in places unimaginable to the pioneers The Baby started off with a thousand
bits of storage and now there's so much storage everywhere, you know a million million million amount of storage, that in my terms
is science fiction How do you foresee the development of computers
over the next decade? I'm not really interested in computers,
I made one and I thought one out of one was a good score
so I didn't make any more

46 thoughts on “Manchester Baby: world's first stored program computer

  1. Some comments here shows that some people do not make difference between a calculator and a computer …. someone even claimed that the computer was invented in ancient Greece… Do Egyptians and Chinese agree with that ?

  2. Showcases the pragmatic attitude of the Electronic Engineer. Idea..Design..Prototype..{1..N} × Debug…Finish. But to recreate EXACTLY after decades = an even higher achievement!!

  3. I have been to mosi ( the museum of science and industry) and I saw the baby replica and I have to say the volentiers are amazing I had the chance to talk to one who was taught by one of the men who worked on it thinks like this make you proud to be from Manchester

  4. as stated in the title This the first STORED PROGRAM computer. it doesn't claim to be the first computer. The von neuman computer or IAS computer developed at princeton university used the same memory used with this one, the Williams tube. it stored a grid of "spots" 32 wide by 32 down becoming the ubiquitious 1032 bits (1k) of storage.
    [from the book by G.Dyson Turings cathederal]

    The work of Turing being very important to all stored program concepts

  5. Think if he have this big gaming computer with 1000 titan x graphic. Cards and 100 intel xeon processors

  6. All of this is wrong the first computer was made in 1940 and was invented by Alan Turing. It was used in the war to break enigma and they did!

  7. Want to see a computer display that WE ARE IN? see my facebook and g+ Yes we are nothing but a 3D projection of pixels.

  8. 1 bit = 8 Bytes. Bits are usually notated for memory storage, bytes are usually denoted for transfer speed. In case someone wanted to know! 😉

  9. alright now all you have to do is put the computer into a microchip add 50 more and you got yourself a phone

  10. Actually, a German by the name of Konrad Zuse is credited with inventing the first modern computer. There were lots of people who added to the leaps computers have taken, but like usual, Americans and the British try to rewrite history and take credit for everything.

  11. Here is the invention of the earliest computer memory. At 5:43 and 5:48 there are close ups of the computer display – a cathode ray tube, similar to Radar displays – showing bits lit up with gaps in between. This display existed first. It was realised that the image of the dot on the phosphorescent screen persisted for a distinct period, longer than the electronic cycling of the machine. So if the charge wells of a CRT screen, caused by the electron beam, could be picked up, the values could be made to persist into the next cycle, allowing the computer to "remember" binary values. At 6:40 you see how this was achieved in the unit labelled STORE. In this unit is the same circular CRT screen as for display (also shown if you start two seconds earlier at 6:38), but this one is covered with a wire mesh which "read" the dots sent to the screen and refreshed the memory values. Possibly the mesh is a modern adaptation created for greater reliability, I believe originally it was a solid metal plate.

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