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Friday, October 9, 2015

Flashback Friday: The Smithsonian's First Computer

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Fred Collier and Jann Thompson with Data Entry Machine, Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA2013-03885

In this photo you can see Jann W. Thompson seated at a data entry machine looking at printouts from the Smithsonian's Honeywell mainframe computer with Fred Collier, the collection manager in the Department of Paleobiology in the National Museum of Natural History. In 1975, when this photo was taken, the Smithsonian had only a single computer - the Honeywell. Unlike the desktops and laptops of today, this mainframe was a general purpose computer for data processing applications across the Smithsonian.

The data entry machine Jann is working at created a paper tape with holes punched in it.  This paper tape was fed into the mainframe computer for data processing. You can tell just how noisy the data entry machine was from the earmuffs Jann is wearing and the ‘Acoustinet’ surrounding it.

The Smithsonian continued to experiment with new technologies throughout the years, launching our first website in 1995 and experimenting with early email systems across the Mall. To learn more about these developments, check out blog posts by David Bridge, a Smithsonian Institution Archives volunteer:

From a Humble Beginning: The Smithsonian's First Internet Domain

The History of Email at the Smithsonian 

Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant
Smithsonian Institution Archives

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