Code-breaking Colossus rebuild takes on tube challenge

Colossus was used to break German ciphers duri...

Colossus

 

New gallery for the rebuild of Colossus, the world’s first modern computer, gets underway

By ECM Plus Staff

ECM Plus +++ The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) located on Bletchley Park is creating a completely new gallery for its most famous exhibit: the rebuild of Colossus, the world’s first electronic, programmable computer. Anyone can play a part in helping to build the new gallery by sponsoring a valve on a virtual Colossus at http://www.colossusonline.org.

The new TNMOC gallery in historic Block H is on the spot where Colossus No 9 stood during the war and where the rebuild took place.

It is designed to be a fitting tribute to the wartime code-breakers and an inspiration to future generations of computer scientists and engineers. It will provide much more space for TNMOC’s growing number of visitors and tell the extraordinary Colossus story through dynamic new displays.

Both community and commerce are encouraged to play their part in helping tell the story of one of the great achievements of the twentieth century. Individuals and small companies can also make modest and publicly acknowledged donations by sponsoring virtual Colossus valves (starting at £10) at http://www.colossusonline.org. Larger donations from corporates and benefactors will be acknowledged within the gallery. TNMOC is seeking to raise £150,000 to create the complete new gallery.

The original Colossus, designed by a team led by Tommy Flowers and first operational at Bletchley Park in 1944, was used to help decipher encrypted messages between Hitler and his generals during World War II. With the help of ten Colossus computers, the intelligence gained from these communications is generally acknowledged as having shortened the war by two years and to have saved countless thousands of lives.

For decades information about Colossus was kept a closely guarded secret and its place in computing history could not be revealed. In 1975 the first details about Colossus became public and in the 1990s a functioning rebuild of Colossus was begun by a team led by the late Tony Sale using fragments of available information.

The completed, functioning rebuild now stands in The National Museum of Computing in Block H on exactly the spot where Colossus No 9 stood during the war. It has attracted tens of thousands of visitors and, as Tony Sale intended, has greatly raised the profile of the wartime code-breakers and their achievements.

Tim Reynolds, Acting Chairman of TNMOC, said: “Tony Sale’s tribute to the wartime code-breakers is awe-inspiring and we are seeking resources to present the rebuilt Colossus so that generations to come will be able to understand its significance. The death of Tony Sale last year was a tragic loss to us all, but fortunately he had already started to plan the new gallery with a TNMOC team.

“TNMOC, an independent charity, has received no lottery funding and must pay substantial rent and other overheads. Despite this and working with very modest budgets, we have opened two major new galleries — featuring the Tunny machine and BBC Domesday Touchtable — over the past nine months and have two more including Colossus planned for 2012. We therefore welcome all contributions from individuals and company sponsors to help us present a gallery that will do justice to Colossus and enthral visitors for years to come.”

Phil Hayes, the recently appointed Colossus Rebuild Chief Engineer, said: “I worked with Tony Sale for more than a decade on Colossus, so to embark on this new gallery for this amazing computer is both humbling and exhilarating. Colossus plays a huge part in the history of electronics and computing and we aim to create a gallery to inspire future generations of computer scientists and engineers.”.

The Colossus room will be closed until early March to enable the infrastructure for the new gallery to be put in place. Planning for the second phase to create exciting interactive and informative displays is underway.

The National Museum of Computing located at Bletchley Park, is an independent charity housing the largest collection of functional historic computers in Europe, including a rebuilt Colossus, the world’s first electronic programmable computer.

The Museum enables visitors to follow the development of computing from the ultra-secret pioneering efforts of the 1940s through the mainframes of the 1960s and 1970s, and the rise of personal computing in the 1980s. New working exhibits are regularly unveiled and the public can already view (from 5 March 2012) a rebuilt and fully operational Colossus, the restoration of the Harwell Dekatron / WITCH computer, an ICL 2966, one of the workhorse mainframes computers of the 1980s, many of the earliest desktops of the 1980s and 1990s, plus the NPL Technology of the Internet Gallery. In June 2010 TNMOC hosted Britain’s first-ever Vintage Computer Festival.

Funders of the Museum include Bletchley Park Capital Partners, CreateOnline, Ceravision, InsightSoftware.com, PGP Corporation, IBM, NPL, HP Labs, BCS, Black Marble, and the School of Computer Science at the University of Hertfordshire.


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