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A Computer Museum
for New Zealand ?

While not all our people are old enough to have hands-on experience with Mainframes, some of us grew up with them, working through endless nights on them, where they progressively took their toll on our hearing.
So why would anyone want to preserve and display them ?? ....

The sad fact is, most examples of these power-hungry monsters have already disappeared, cut up and melted down for the gold contacts in them. They (and the systems they ran) transformed society more than anything since the industrial revolution, grid-electricity and the motor-car. Only the USA appears to have taken this seriously so far, with an excellent specialist museum in San Francisco. It is well worth having a look at their website to see what we mean. www.computerhistory.org

There is also now another very worthwhile place to take in, - the UK's National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. Here the world's first electronic programmable computer called Colossus, built by Tommy Flowers in 1943, has been substantially restored. This helped break the codes of Hitler's Enigma & Lorenz SZ40 code machines, shortening WW2 by two years ! See Website. Churchill announced that these computers had been broken up, but in fact two Colossus machines were moved to the UK's GCHQ where they were used right through the Cold War era, into the 1960's, to keep tabs on the USSR's use of the Tunny encryption machines 'inherited' from Germany at the wars end.

An ideal place to house a NZ-focused collection may be at or near the Telecom Museum in Christchurch. The Post & Telegraph collection (stationed in the Ferrymead Historic Park Post Office building) contains a better working display of Rotary, Step, and early PABX units than even the displays in London's Science Museum.

Early known NZ machines: There was an IBM 650 on display at MOTAT in Auckland many years ago, which was New Zealand's first computer, installed in November 1960 in Wellington at the Treasury. MOTAT had stored this in containers which subsequently leaked, and it looks as though this historic machine was dumped, as a result.
Canterbury University had its first computer by 1961, and by 1968 NZ had 87 computers. We are not aware of any 3rd generation mainframes (such as IBM System 360/370) anywhere in the country, although we are hoping there is one or two somewhere in storage. There was one IBM System 360/30 discovered and brought briefly back to life (link for story) in Auckland, around 1995, however this was abandoned and apparently scrapped - which is a great shame ! (The console fascia from it is on display at Auckland University now.)

Ferranti Pegasus (1956) in London's Science Museum - Photo by Murray Green (2004)

Visits to the Science Museum at Kensington on each of our visits to London, have become a 'must-do'. For those that appreciate such things, the displays of Babbage's difference engine, and the 'Pegasus', are well worth the time spent on a visit. Pictured below is the last Mainframe we worked on in 1999, before server farms became the norm. Does it still exist somewhere ?

Dual ICL 3980 (NZ Customs Service at Tawa, Wellington) - Photo by M.Green (1999)
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