Sixty-five years ago, in a cluttered lab in Manchester, UK, three scientists changed the world of computing forever. Working with a machine they’d built and nicknamed Baby, they ran the first ever program to be stored electronically in a computer’s memory.
Put together by “Freddie” Williams, Tom Kilburn and Geoff Tootill, the computer — officially called the Manchester Small Scale Experimental Machine — was 5m long, weighed a ton, and was a testbed for the experimental Williams-Kilburn tube. That was a newly proposed means of storing bits of data using a cathode ray tube, and if it worked, it looked set to provide the first ever means of storing and flexibly accessing information in electronic form.
It did work, supplying Baby with what amounted to the earliest form of RAM — of which it had just 128 bytes. (The computer you’re using now has billions of times more, but you already knew that.) And that’s what allowed the computer to be the first to run a program electronically stored in its memory — a huge turning point in the world of computing.
Sadly Baby was a proof-of-concept, and nothing remain of the original device — though there is replica on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, UK. Check it out if you’re ever close by. [Google]