Home‎ > ‎

toward a museum

Interesting report about the costs of creating museum exhibits, from the Smithsonian.

The ENIAC Group is a nonprofit corporation with a goal of establishing an ENIAC museum in Philadelphia and celebrating the birth of the computer industry here.  A main goal is the reconstruction of the ENIAC, as an iconic, monumental centerpiece and tourist destination.  Other related projects, like books, videos, websites, traveling exhibits will be considered.  The organization will steer the vision and scope of projects, and engage in fund raising from corporations and individuals.

Background History:
Pres Eckert and John Mauchly invented the ENIAC, the first electronic computer, in 1945 at the University of Pennsylvania.  It was huge:680 square feet, weighed 30 tons, and used 18,000 vacuum tubes. (for lots more, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ENIAC).  It was an instant celebrity and symbol of a new age of digital electronics.  
Eckert and Mauchly's story is rich, and their contributions go far beyond the ENIAC.  Through their energy and genius, they lit a fire of computer innovation that continues to this day.  Against common judgement, they made the first "Computer start-up" that drove the commercialization of computers and invented the software business.   Their UNIVAC became synonymous with computer in the 1950's.

Where is the ENIAC now?
Unlike many other important firsts, like the Declaration of Independence or the Spirit of St. Louis or the Wright Flyer, the ENIAC has not been "iconicized" yet.  There are only a few small pieces of the machine that are even available for public view.  While there are literally tons of computers in museums, the true "Adam" of computerdom is not getting much floor space or mind share.  The Smithsonian has some modules that it lends out to other museums.  But other parts of the ENIAC are in storage, and in need of repair.  Still other parts are gone forever.The School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania has four of the original forty panels and one of the three function tables of the ENIAC.

But wait - I thought that XXX was the first computer!
There has been plenty of energy spent trying to dislodge the ENIAC from it's rightful place in history.  Without getting into it here, let's just say we have this covered.  The machines from Iowa and England and Germany were great accomplishments, but they were not electronic computers.  Historians and computer scientists back us up on this.  Not only was the ENIAC the first electronic computer, but it alone, and not any of the others, started the computer industry. 

Bill Mauchly, James Reed: son and grandson of John Mauchly, live in the Philly area and are heading up the ENIAC group.
Chris Eckert: son of J. Presper Eckert.
Rocco Martino, computer pioneer and author
The School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania
The Franklin Institute Science Museum
Unisys Corporation
Al Rollin, President, Unisys Blue Bell Retirees Group
Tourism Office for the City of Philadephia

General Timing
Phase One
Concept Development and Buy-in
We are now in phase one.  We are still trying to define the vision and strategy.  The goal is to develop a plan that is detailed enough attract donors.  It is happening without any funding, just volunteer work.  We will incorporate as a non-profit, and invite a board of directors.  That should include some computer industry people, some museum exhibit design people, computer historians, and someone with ties to the City of Philadelphia, and someone who understands fund-raising and non-profit management.

Phase Two
Fund Raising
We don't know the target number.  (Five million?) We should raise enough to construct an ENIAC museum and create an endowment to run it.  An alternative plan would have a touring exhibit which would be self-supporting.

Phase Three
Design and Construction

Phase Four
Museum is in operation.

Concept One
The Giant Electronic Brain
2000 sq. ft. Science Museum Exhibit
Like a dinosaur, the first computer was huge, scary, and imposing.  That much even a child can appreciate.  Nowadays science museum exhibits have to be fun for the family, with a variety of games and lots of visual excitement.  Computers are great at that.  This would be a professionally designed, state-of-the-art exhibit, ready to tour science museums around the world.
There are stories to tell: 
The women that programmed it were called computers too.  The men who created it fought the naysayers to fulfill their vision;  they fought the mice who would eat the wires.  They fought against time.  But who was really first? Who stole whose ideas?  What happened when the UNIVAC tried to predict the presidential election?
There are concepts to teach.  In many ways, the big basic ideas of computer science are more exciting and easier to understand in old, tangible technology than they are in the microscopic chips of today.  And why did they need a guidebook to fire a cannon, anyway? 
The three main sections of the exhibit might be:
The ENIAC - and how it came to be made in Philadelphia
The big ideas - what is the "essence" of a computer?  How do they work?
UNIVAC and the world's first computer company
The use of virtual reality, Telepresence and video-walls could be employed effectively to teach and tell stories, without using extensive physical space.

Concept Two
ENIAC  Hackerspace
An environment of excitement and experimentation truly flavored the early computer days and will be an important ingredient for the success/vibrancy of the Museum. Embedding the spirit of this Excitement in the Museum's formulation will attract bright people and resources to the project.
This embedded core might best be described as a HackerSpace*.
*Definition ------Wikipedia
A hackerspace or hackspace (from Hacker and Space) is a real (as opposed to virtual) place where people with common interests, usually in science, technology, or digital or electronic art can meet, socialise and collaborate. A hackerspace can be viewed as an open community lab, workbench, machine shop, workshop and/or studio where people of diverse backgrounds can come together to share resources and knowledge to build/make things.
ENIAC rebuild
Building new ENIAC modules is an activity that could engage and educate anyone willing to learn how to solder and drill.    In this scenario, we invite volunteers, (hopefully many young people) to join us in recreating the Giant Brain using most of the same techniques as the original inventors did.
  It's a grass roots, low-budget way to bring about a full-size ENIAC while at the same time providing hands-on electronics training to the next generation of rule-breakers.

Concept Three
The Second American Revolution
Philadelphia attracts visitors who are interested in history. After the Liberty Bell, and before the Rocky statue, they should be visiting the first computer, but today they cannot.  The ENIAC needs a permanent home in Philadelphia.  The emphasis would be on the historical context and significance of the machine.      
The ENIAC was not just the first electronic computer, it was the big bang of the ever-expanding information age.  It is a terrific story, and the city needs to have a place to tell it.