Historic Edsac computer part found after 60 years

An original and significant chunk of one of the UK’s most revolutionary computers, the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC), has been found in the US and sent for integration into a reconstruction of the historic machine.

Claimed to be the one of the world’s first practical general-purpose computers, EDSAC was built in the 1940s at the University of Cambridge.

According to the EDSAC reconstruction project lead at the National Museum of Computing, Dr Andrew Herbert, the part, dubbed the Chassis 1A, may had been acquired in an auction of EDSAC parts in Cambridge in the 1950s upon the computer’s decommissioning.

The chassis was in a ‘quite distressed’ condition due to corrosion upon being in storage for several decades, while work is underway on its integration into the reconstructed EDSAC.

Herbert said: "Details of the ‘auction’ are unclear, but there is a possibility that other parts of the original EDSAC still exist and could even be in the Cambridge area stored away in lofts, garden sheds and garages."

"We would very much like to hear from anyone who thinks they may have other parts. It would be a major task to return this particular chassis to operating condition."

"However, we hope to try to use some of the valves, if they are still functional, in our reconstructed Edsac thus providing a very tangible connection with the original machine."

The room-size system features 5ft-long mercury-filled tubes for the main memory, while relied on 3,000 vacuum tubes, deployed on 12 racks integrating over 140 chassis, to carry out computational operations.

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