Never miss a story from Breakfast Bytes. Subscribe for in-depth analysis and articles.
August is often a quiet time at Breakfast Bytes, with lots of people on vacation and Cadence not announcing any products. In 2017, I decided to do a series taking each Friday to write about a technology museum. Since then, I have visited more museums. The most recent was Old Slater Mill just outside Providence RI, which I wrote about earlier this week. The posts about museums have been spread over five years, so I thought that I'd revisit them and give a little more color on what you will find if you read the whole post since the entire magnum opus must be about 15,000 words. I also put them into groups.
The Intel Museum (Santa Clara, CA)
The Intel museum is at the Intel HQ in Santa Clara. I would divide it into two halves. One, aimed mostly at school kids, on how semiconductors are made. And the second part is more historical: the original business plan for Intel, the Altair, which was really the first home computer, the Busicom calculator that led to the creation of the first microprocessor, and so on.
TSMC Museum of Innovation (Hsinchu, Taiwan)
The TSMC museum is also in two parts, one pretty much entirely about Morris Chang, and the other at varying levels of details about TSMC's fabs and even some surprisingly deep dives into the technologies involved in manufacture. I think they revamp the museum every year, so what I saw a couple of years ago may now be different.
German Computer Museums (Munich, Germany)
This is almost entirely about the electro-mechanical computers at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. I do mention two other museums, the Heinz-Nixdorf Museum (see below) and the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin, which I plan to visit in November, so expect a blog about that before the end of the year. Several of Zuse's original computers are on display, along with a lot of other computers from different eras.
British Computer Museums (London and Bletchley, UK)Colossus: the First Programmable Digital Electronic Computer (Bletchley, UK)
This is about two museums. First, the museum at Bletchley Park, where the second world-war codebreakers, most famously Alan Turing, worked. All the equipment was destroyed after the war, but there have been some major rebuild projects, most notably Colossus. The second part of the British Museum's post is about the Science Museum, particularly its rebuild project of Babbage's Difference Engine Number 2.
The Computer History Museum (Mountain View, CA)Four Early Computers 1&2 (Mountain View, CA)Four Early Computers 3&4 (Mountain View, CA)
These posts are all about the Computer History Museum (CHM) in Mountain View (101 & Shoreline) and four computers in the museum that were of special significance to me, in that I actually programmed them. But there are a lot more computers than those four at the CHM.
Heinz Nixdorf's Legacy in Paderborn (Paderborn, Germany)
This is the largest computer museum in the world, Heinz Nixdorf Museums Forum. The one problem with this museum is that the signs on the exhibits are all in German only. I suppose another disadvantage is that if you work in semiconductors, you might well find yourself in Munich, but you will not be visiting Paderborn, which is definitely off the beaten track.
Mercedes-Benz Museum (Stuttgart, Germany)Porsche Museum (video) (Stuttgart, Germany)
I have grouped these two together since, despite the title, the Mercedes-Benz post also talks about the Porsche Museum. And the "post" about the Porsche Museum is actually a video of some of the exhibits.
PK: A Museum for the Biggest Telecommunication Hub in the World (Cornwall, UK)
In 1920, this was literally the biggest telecommunication hub in the world, with 14 transoceanic telegraph cables terminating in a single windowless building about 10 feet square. It is, to say the least, out of the way at the very far end of Cornwall, about a 5 hour drive from London.
Quarry Bank Mill: A Technology Museum from the Industrial Revolution (Manchester, UK)
If you want to understand how the industrial revolution got started in textiles, then this is the best place in the world to visit. This was an actual working mill, and much of the original equipment is still there and is still running. In a way that no history book can convey, you can see how automating spinning and weaving led to something like a 1000X increase in productivity and the beginnings of lifting humanity out of the Malthusian trap.
Old Slater Mill RI. Made in England (Providence, RI)
This is where the first automated cotton spinning was set up in the US. Unfortunately, although the building and the dam are preserved, none of the equipment survived. There is some spinning machinery in the building, but it is mostly from a later era, and so it is nothing like the same experience as visiting Quarry Bank Mill. But, if you live in the US, a lot easier to get to.
Two of the computer museums above are actually more general science museums, even though I only wrote about the computing aspect. Those are the Deutsches Museum in Munich, which is the largest science museum in the world, and The Science Museum in London, which may well be #2.
The San Jose Tech Museum (San Jose, CA)
This has now been re-branded Tech Interactive, although the list of exhibits looks very similar to when I visited. Since I live in San Jose, I don't really have an excuse for not going back for another visit so that I can write a post that is more up-to-date.
Sign up for Sunday Brunch, the weekly Breakfast Bytes email.