The National Museum of Computing reboots the Harwell Dekatron aka The WITCH computer
The WITCH, the world's oldest digital computer has been rebooted today at the grand age of 61.
After three years of restoration, The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) switched on the Harwell Dekatron in front of two of its original designers.
The 2.5 tonne computer built in 1951 has had a number of homes in its 'career' but was renamed the WITCH after a spell at the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Technical College.
With its 828 flashing Dekatron valves, 480 relays and a bank of paper tape readers Kevin Murrell, trustee of TNMOC who initiated the restoration project, said The WITCH had lead a "charmed life"
"In 1951 the Harwell Dekatron was one of perhaps a dozen computers in the world, and as "the world's oldest original working digital computer, it provides a wonderful contrast to our Rebuild of the wartime Colossus, the world's first semi-programmable electronic computer."
The WITCH will now go on display alongside other original computers at the TNMOC, which is using funds from Google and private investors to extend its teaching progammes. The TNMOC says that WITCH still has valuable lessons to impart.
Chris Monk, Learning Co-ordinator at TNMOC, said: "Any self-respecting science needs to understand its past.
"Today's young people are digital natives, and at TNMOC we can demonstrate to them that they are living through the latest chapter in the development of computing and technology.
"We encourage them to think about the heritage story we present at TNMOC and we explain the role that British computer scientists and engineers have played.
"But our key objective is to help inspire them to play a part in future developments and to write that next chapter of computing, contributing to a future gallery at our wonderful museum."
The Dekatron first ran at the Harwell Atomic Energy Research Establishment in 1951 where it automated the tedious calculations performed by talented young people using mechanical hand calculators.
Six years later it moved to the then Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Technical College; hence the rename of the WITCH. It was used by the College until 1973.
After a period on display in the former Birmingham Museum of Science and Industry, it was dismantled and put into storage, but "rediscovered" by a team of volunteers from TNMOC and moved to its new home in 2009.
Since then a team of volunteers have been restoring it for its latest relaunch as an educational tool, this time at the TNMOC.
Delwyn Holroyd, a TNMOC volunteer who led the restoration team, said: "The restoration was quite a challenge requiring work with components like valves, relays and paper tape readers that are rarely seen these days and are certainly not found in modern computers.
"Older members of the team had to brush up on old skills while younger members had to learn from scratch!"
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