A new £150,000 gallery at the National Museum of Computing dedicated to Colossus – the first electronic, programmable computer – will be partly funded by a valve sponsorship scheme.
Individuals and organisations can pay to associate their name with one of the ground-breaking device’s 2,500 vacuum tubes as contained in the functioning rebuilt Colossus displayed at Bletchley Park’s historic Block H.
Colossus was a vital unit of the system that deciphered encrypted teleprinter messages transmitted between Adolf Hitler and his military commanders during the Second World War. Intelligence gained from these hacked communiques is credited as having shortened the conflict in Europe by two years, saving thousands of lives. Lead-designed by engineer Tommy Flowers, the Colossus Mark 1 was operational at Bletchley Park by February 1944. Ten successive Colossus computers were in commission by May 1945.
Information about Colossus was secret; its place in computing history was not revealed until 30 years after the end of the war. The rebuild project, initiated by the late electronic engineer Tony Sale, and using scraps of available information, was completed in 1996. Sale wrote about the rebuild in E&T’s predecessor, IEE Review, in March 1995.
“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,” says Colossus rebuild chief engineer Phil Hayes. “The rebuilt Colossus represents a direct link to the UK’s pioneering contribution to the history of information and communications technology, and stands in the Museum’s Block H, exactly where Colossus No 9 was located during the 1939-45 war.”
The current Colossus display will be closed until March while the infrastructure for the new gallery is put in place. Early sponsors include Buchanan Computing, Exa Networks, Galea Research, Jalapeno Business Services, and Palam; larger donations will be acknowledged within the gallery itself. Check the Museum’s website for more details of the re-opening date.
PDF download of Tony Sale’s article on rebuilding Colossus, from IEE Review March 1995