The Computer History Museum (CHM) is a museum established in 1996 in Mountain View, California, US. The museum is dedicated to preserving and presenting the stories and artifacts of the information age, and exploring the computing revolution and its impact on society.
The Computer History Museum is a nonprofit organization with a four-decade history as the world’s leading institution exploring the history of computing and its ongoing impact on society. The Museum is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of computer history and is home to the largest international collection of computing artifacts in the world, encompassing computer hardware, software, documentation, ephemera, photographs, oral histories, and moving images.
The Museum brings computer history to life through large-scale exhibits, an acclaimed speaker series, a dynamic website, docent-led tours and an award-winning education program.
The museum’s origins date to 1968 when Gordon Bell began a quest for a historical collection and, at that same time, others were looking to preserve the Whirlwind computer. The resulting Museum Project had its first exhibit in 1975, located in a converted coat closet in a DEC lobby. In 1978, the museum, now The Digital Computer Museum (TDCM), moved to a larger DEC lobby in Marlborough, Massachusetts. Maurice Wilkes presented the first lecture at TDCM in 1979 – the presentation of such lectures has continued to the present time.
TDCM incorporated as The Computer Museum (TCM) in 1982. In 1984, TCM moved to Boston, locating on Museum Wharf.
In 1996/1997, The TCM History Center (TCMHC) in Silicon Valley was established; a site at Moffett Field was provided by NASA (an old building that was previously the Naval Base furniture store) and a large number of artifacts were shipped there from TCM.
In 1999, TCMHC incorporated and TCM ceased operation, shipping its remaining artifacts to TCMHC in 2000. The name TCM had been retained by the Boston Museum of Science so, in 2000, the name TCMHC was changed to Computer History Museum (CHM).
In 2002, CHM opened its new building (previously occupied by Silicon Graphics), at 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd in Mountain View, California, to the public. The facility was later heavily renovated and underwent a two-year $19 million makeover before reopening in January 2011.
The Computer History Museum is expanding into two major new areas of history: software and entrepreneurship. These two centers will “connect the dots” between computing’s past and its future, provide new insight on the forces of change that computing in all of its forms have unleashed, and explore the coming technological, social and economic implications for the world.
Taking these new steps, and adding this work to our world-class collection of computing artifacts and our growing expertise in storytelling, education and media production, will bring a profound change to CHM. They will help us redefine for this century what a museum is, how it can engage minds around the world, and how it can use history as a platform to understand, and to look ahead.
Entrepreneurs and computing go hand in hand. Across the world, people want to understand why that is, how it happens, what is special about the way it works in Silicon Valley, and how past innovation connects to the future. Exponential, a center for entrepreneurship and innovation, will capture and preserve that history and make those forward-looking connections.
Center for Software History
The purpose of the Center for Software History is to collect, preserve, interpret and present to the world the history of software and its ongoing impact on global society. This work will heavily focus not only on the history of software itself but also on the men and women who have created the platforms, programs, systems and businesses that have led to the revolution in computing worldwide over the last century. The Museum will bring the end product of the Center’s work to the public through a web portal, public exhibitions, an ongoing oral history program, dissemination of landmark vintage code with accompanying historic narratives, and education programs aimed at both the general public and the K-12 STEM+ audience with particular emphasis on late elementary, middle, and high schools.
Collections and exhibition
The Computer History Museum claims to house the largest and most significant collection of computing artifacts in the world (the Heinz Nixdorf Museum, Paderborn, Germany, has more items on display but a far smaller total collection). This includes many rare or one-of-a-kind objects such as a Cray-1 supercomputer as well as a Cray-2, Cray-3, the Utah teapot, the 1969 Neiman Marcus Kitchen Computer, an Apple I, and an example of the first generation of Google’s racks of custom-designed web servers. The collection comprises nearly 90,000 objects, photographs and films, as well as 4,000 feet (1,200 m) of cataloged documentation and several hundred gigabytes of software. The CHM oral history program conducts video interviews around the history of computing and networking, with over 700 as of 2016.
The museum’s 25,000-square-foot (2,300 m2) exhibit “Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing,” opened to the public on January 13, 2011. It covers the history of computing in 20 galleries, from the abacus to the Internet. The entire exhibition is also available online.
The museum features a Liquid Galaxy in the “Going Places: A History of Silicon Valley” exhibit. The exhibit features 20 preselected locations that visitors can fly to on the Liquid Galaxy.
The museum has several additional exhibits, including a restoration of an historic PDP-1 minicomputer, two restored IBM 1401 computers, and an exhibit on the history of autonomous vehicles, from torpedoes to self-driving cars.
An operating Difference Engine designed by Charles Babbage in the 1840s and constructed by the Science Museum of London was on display until January 31, 2016. It had been on loan since 2008 from its owner, Nathan Myhrvold, a former Microsoft executive.
Former media executive John Hollar was appointed CEO of The Computer History Museum in July 2008.
In 2010 the museum began with the collection of source code of important software, beginning with Apple’s MacPaint 1.3, written in a combination of Assembly and Pascal and available as download for the public. In 2012 the APL programming language followed. In February 2013 Adobe Systems, Inc. donated the Photoshop 1.0.1 source code to the collection. On March 25, 2014 followed Microsoft with the source code donation of SCP MS-DOS 1.25 and a mixture of Altos MS-DOS 2.11 and TeleVideo PC DOS 2.11 as well as Word for Windows 1.1a under their own license. On October 21, 2014, Xerox Alto’s source code and other resources followed.
Oral History Collection
This archive contains transcripts and videos of oral history interviews and panel discussions with key pioneers and contributors to the Information Age.
The Computer Chess archive contains documents, photos, movies and oral histories relating to the history of computer chess from 1945 to 1997.
The Fortran archive is a collection of materials, primarily documents, relating to the early years of the development of the programming language Fortran, 1954 to 1964.
A selection of marketing brochures from the museum’s collection, dating from 1948 to 1988.
Archival Finding Aids
The Museum collection contains many unique documents and other primary source materials. You can access these primary sources through finding aids.
The PDP-1 archive contains documents, photos, movies and music relating to Digital Equipment Corporation’s groundbreaking PDP-1 computer.
The IBM Stretch archive is a collection of items, primarily documents, relating to the development of the IBM 7030 (“Stretch”) computer project from 1955 to 1961.
Fairchild Patent Notebooks
The Fairchild Patent Notebooks revolutionized microelectronics and drove the explosive growth of the Silicon Valley.
1979 The Digital Computer Museum opens inside Digital Equipment Corporation’s office in Marlborough, Massachusetts.
1984 The Computer Museum, dropping “Digital” from its name, relocates to Museum Wharf in the heart of downtown Boston. Please see the The Computer Museum historical website (http://tcm.computerhistory.org/) for all the talks, exhibits, and publications.
1987 The Computer Museum begins its Fellow Awards program and names Grace Hopper as the first recipient.
1990 The Computer Museum expands its exhibits with a two-story walkthrough computer and other innovative educational displays for school-age children.
1991 The major permanent exhibition People and Computers: Milestones of a Revolution opens, featuring many unique and important computers including the MIT Whirlwind, UNIVAC 1, IBM 360/30, Cray-1, DEC PDP-8, and Apple-1.
1996 The Computer Museum moves the unused historical collection west to Moffett Field in Mountain View, California and enters a new phase with the establishment of The Computer Museum History Center.
1999 The Computer Museum in Boston closes and moves some of the exhibits into Boston’s Museum of Science. The remainder of the historical collection of world-class artifacts travels to The Computer Museum History Center in Mountain View, which incorporates as a new independent California 501(c)3 non-profit.
2000 Independent of a progenitor institution which no longer exists, The Computer Museum History Center is renamed the Computer History Museum.
2002 The Computer History Museum purchases a landmark building in Mountain View, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley. Now with a permanent home, the Museum opens its Visible Storage exhibit (now only on the web).
2005 The Museum opens a new exhibit on the history of computer chess: Mastering the Game (now only on the web). The exhibit was a prototype of the exhibit development process that used rich content and advanced technologies to create an engaging visitor experience.
2006 In December, the Web History Center joins the Computer History Museum to preserve the history of the web and make it available to everyone. The mission is to identify and secure records from Web pioneers, companies, and other sources to preserve the Web’s collective memory.
2007 The Museum buys a modern climate-controlled storage facility in Milpitas, California to store the 90% of its collection which is not on display at any given time.
2008 The Museum opens the Babbage Difference Engine #2 exhibit. The Difference Engine #2 is a 5-ton Victorian era calculating machine with 8,000 parts. Babbage never saw it work. You can learn more about the Difference Engine #2 in our online exhibit.
2010 In November, the Museum begins a major renovation of its building.
2011 In January, the Museum reopens with a new lobby, café, gift store and signature exhibition called Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing. Revolution is a look back at computers through the ages — from the abacus to the smartphone — and the amazing human stories they tell.