Challenge to restore oldest working computer

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Place: 
Bletchley Park
United Kingdom

The Harwell/WITCH computer, the world's oldest complete computer, is to undergo a year long restoration to regain working order. The computer was moved to the UK's National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) last week, its framework has now been reassembled and it has already been seen by hundreds of visitors to the Museum at Bletchley Park.

Tony Frazer, leader of the WITCH restoration team said: ‘The WITCH arrived in remarkably good condition after more than three decades of storage. We've assembled the frame and it now looks just as it did in its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. Our first task is to see what we can do with the power supply ’“ we dare not just switch things on as time will have taken a toll on the chemistry and physics of the unit. Then we will be moving onto the thousands of wires and switches and the hundreds of Dekatron tubes. Although we have circuit diagrams, we can already identify wiring modifications, so this is going to require a lot of ingenuity.’

Companies, organisations and individuals can support the restoration by purchasing shares and making donations. The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is one of the first organisations to announce its sponsorship of the restoration and it joins Insight Software as a shareholder in the project. The computer was originally used by the UKAEA's research team at Harwell for seven years in the 1950s.

With the news of the restoration project, the three original designers have been in touch with the National Museum of Computing. It is hoped that a reunion at the Museum will be possible in the coming weeks.

To find out more about the WITCH project and to sponsor the restoration, click here.