One of the oldest mass-produced computers may get up and running again at a computing museum. It’s the same model that appeared in several TV shows and films including Doctor Who and James Bond.
The computer that’s been delivered to the National Museum of Computing in the United Kingdom was the first of 150 units of the ICT 1301. This specific model is known affectionately as Flossie.
The range was among the first designed for use by businesses rather than large research centers at universities. The computers weighed over 12,000 pounds and took up floorspace of 20 feet by 23 feet.
That may seem huge today, but the selling point at the time was the compactness. Not only were the computers much smaller than earlier models, but they used transistors rather than vacuum tubes. That further reduced the space requirements as you didn’t need dedicated cooling equipment or specialist power supplies. As long as you had some form of basic air conditioning, you could put the computer anywhere you had room.
The ICT 1301 had equipment such as a punch card reader, tape reel and printer built in. It was also hard wired to cope with the complex pre-decimal currency system used in the UK at the time by which, rather than having a pound made up of one hundred pennies, the pound was made up of 20 shilling, each made up of 12 pennies, while some prices were quoted in guineas (21 shillings) rather than pounds. That allowed many businesses to use it for tracking financial transactions.
It wasn’t a casual purchase however. It cost £250,000, equivalent to around £4 million (US$6.4 million) in today’s money.
Although slimline by the standards of the day, the ICT 1301 was still distinctive thanks to its barrage of indicator lights and the noise of the tape reels. As a result, models were used as props in Blakes 7, Doctor Who and The Man With The Golden Gun.
Flossie, the first ICT 1301 off the production line, was originally used by the University of London. After being decommissioned it changed hands a couple of times at a low price that reflected its metal content rather than its technology. Thankfully none of its owners chose to realize that scrap value and it was most recently housed in a farm barn where members of the Computer Conservation Society began restoring it.
Flossie has now been moved to The National Museum of Computing’s storage facility in Milton Keynes. The goal is to get it up and running and then display it at the museum in BletchleyPark. Although three of the original 150 models are known to still be in existence, it appears Flossie is the only one which has any hope of ever working again.
(Image credit: George Brown, The ICT 1301 Resurrection Project.)