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Ross Perot's
The History of Computers"

February 2006

There has been a burst of e-mails concerning Ross Perot's interest in presenting computer history.

The following e-mail (February 2006, Libby Craft to John Toole [CEO of the Computer History Museum]) was widely CCed and seems to have started an e-mail burst from Mountain View, CA
John and team,

Thank you so kindly for the follow-up. Our exhibit is quite humble compared to the multi-exhibit broad based museum that your team is creating, but it is a labor of love and something that Mr. Perot has wanted to do for many years. His objectives are to: preserve the history of computing in a substantial way so that people have an understanding and appreciation of:

  1. the extraordinary advances in the computer industry,
  2. strategic contributions along the evolutionary path of computer development and
  3. to recognize selected individuals whose contributions made a profound and revolutionary difference in the direction of computing. Along with metal and machines, we want to infuse a sense of humanity.

We track the history from abacus to current generation with machines (primarily IBM), photos and artifacts with narratives telling the story. The tour can then go to our (Perot Systems) corporate headquarters state of the art data center to learn about current and future technologies.

Phase II will move the exhibit to another level in visual impact and to further engage the senses. We will complete this upgrade by mid-April.

We want to add the actual machine sounds as accurate as possible, so I am trying to find an audio of either just the machine in operation or film with the machines operating. The other option is a person's recollection of the machine sound which our in-house audio person can electronically create. The machines are keypunch, sorter, collator, RAMAC 305, accounting machine and 604 calculator with 521 punch [, and 729 tape drive*]. We have other machines, but these are the most important for sound creation. I've spoken with our good friends with IBM Corporate Archives and they don't have what we are seeking.

The exhibit is open to community and youth groups and we have guests from all over the world on a weekly basis. It is so interesting to see the reaction of younger people who can't imagine technology at their fingertips larger than a breadbox VS those who worked in the early DP shops who get positively giddy at the site of an old plugboard!

Any guidance or assistance will be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much.

Libby Craft
The Perot Group
Plano, TX
* addition requested by Libby Craft
Note that the e-mail above carefully stated machine sounds and sights (video) rather than the physical machines themselves.

Although the stated goals are carefully specified, the above innocent e-mail stirred the dreams of many "old timers" that old fashioned tab machines such as keypunches, sorters, collators, accounting machines such as the IBM 402 or 407 could be presented and demonstrated - live -

- and maybe members of the audience could keypunch their name into a card and take the card as a souvenir and/or see the card processed in some way.

Such a demonstration challenge is rather severe - and I presume has been squashed several times - for reasons such as below:

  1. The machines are indeed mechanical, and require correct lubrication and care, tender loving care, - even if only operated a few minutes each hour or day or week.
  2. People able to do step one above are getting scarce, and there is little financial incentive for the younger generation (say mid-50s ;-) to learn these machines, and their maintenance and repair.
  3. Spare/replacement parts is another challenge - keep on the good side of your friendly machinist.
    Oddly, "IBM cards" and perforated printer paper is still commercially available :-))
  4. The correct presentation of these machines is a museum keeper's nightmare. They are dusty, noisy, an attractive nuisance (little kids - anyone under 80) want to get their hands on them and make noise. You can't just encase the machines in plastic and get the same effect.
  5. Specially trained docents are required to present the machines and to have physical control to reduce the risk of damage to the machines.
  6. And since everything is reputed to cause cancer, even our drinking water, the legal risk is significant. - Especially with Texas lawyers and juries -
But I and a number of folks would drive/fly a long way and pay a bunch to see such a living exhibit. (The Exploratorium in San Francisco is an example). And maybe spend an hour or so learning about Hollerith card code, keypunch drum cards, data fields, plug boards, ... data flow in a tab room ... just how did your electric bill get generated? ...

Dreaming on happily :-))

Ed Thelen

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