A project to recreate and restore a pioneering 1940s computer has reached a major milestone after the first working parts are demonstrated.
The key elements were unveiled at an event at Bletchley Park on Wednesday, marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sir Maurice Wilkes who designed the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (Edsac).
Sir Maurice Wilkes died in 2010 and the project to rebuild the Edsac started in 2011. It is hoped that it will be completed in 2015.
Edsac has been widely accepted as the world’s first practical general purpose computer and it first ran in 1949, with the purpose of helping scientists at the University of Cambridge.
Leo, the world’s first computer designed for business use, copied the design from the Edsac.
In order to recreate this monumental piece of history has not been an easy task. Relatively few of the original design documents have survived, so early work on the project was spent scrutinising pictures of the original to work out what all the parts did and where they went.
It must have taken great care and patience when you consider the Edsac is built of 3,000 valves, which are spread across 140 seperate shelves. Once the machine is complete, it will occupy 20-sq-m (215-sq-ft).
At the event on Wednesday Sir Maurice’s son, Anthony, said of his father “My father was a man of great intellect with a strong practical streak, from an early age my two sisters and I were conscious of computers – in a way we were one of the first computer-age families.”
The plan is to install the finished machine in the gallery at the UK’s National Museum of Computing, which is part of the Bletchley Park heritage site.
[Image via wikimediacommons]