Britain’s oldest computer, The Harwell, is getting restored and switched back on in the hope of making it the oldest original functioning electronic stored program computer in the world. If successful, it will be housed alongside the rebuild of Colossus Mk II, the world’s first electronic computer.
The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) is inviting members of the public and industry to sponsor the restoration of the Harwell computer by purchasing one of 25 shares at £4500 each. The funds will be used by TNMOC, a registered charity, to undertake the restoration and extend the ever-expanding museum.
The computer, which was designed in 1949, first ran in 1951 and was designed to perform mathematical calculations; it lasted until 1973. The system was built and used by staff at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Harwell, Oxfordshire.
Speaking to BBC News, Dick Barnes, who helped build the original Harwell computer, said the research was – officially at least – for civilian nuclear power projects.
“Officially it was to help with general background atomic theory and to assist in the development of civilian power…Of course, it [the Atomic Energy Research Establishment] had connections to the nuclear weapons programme,” he said.
Its arrival at TNMOC on 3 September will be the first stage in an expected year-long restoration challenge.
The current earliest functioning computer is the 1956 Pegasus machine at The Science Museum in London.