15 January 2012

Scope Sunday 23

Last week, I spent a few hours at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. I had previously toured the "Visual Storage" exhibit hall several years ago, but they have a new, beautiful display hall called "Revolution" that I hadn't seen yet. I spent the afternoon wandering around the exhibits and taking pictures. The Museum has a stunning collection of computer-related artifacts. Simply breathtaking.

However, (since it is "Scope Sunday") I have to report that they only have two pieces of Tektronix gear on display in their collection (other than the equipment currently on Jim Williams's desk). In the "PDP-1 Restoration" exhibit hall, there is an original PDP-1 that has been restored and is occasionally demonstrated to the public. In the back of the exhibit hall is a Tektronix 535A, which is probably the "historically accurate" instrumentation for working on a PDP-1!

In the "Revolution" exhibit hall, in the "Minicomputers" section, there is a PDP-8/E that is part of some custom hospital equipment that mapped the brain's response to stimuli during surgery. This "brain surgery station" includes several pieces of Tektronix gear, including a RM561 oscilloscope (with 2A60 and 72 plug-ins), a 161 pulse generator, and a 162 waveform generator.

However, if you look closely at the other exhibits and photographs, there is much evidence that Tektronix oscilloscopes are important to the development of computers. In many of the historic photographs, there is Tektronix equipment plainly visible in the background (and foreground). It's like a subliminal Tektronix exhibit. Here's a list of the Tektronix gear that I found:

  1. MADDIDA Customer Demonstration
    What do your customers want to see? A Tek 511A front and center.
  2. UNIVAC System brochure
    This sales brochure has several pictures of a UNIVAC installation that include a Tektronix oscilloscope. Check out pages 2, 11, 13, and 15. I especially like how the drawing on page 2 includes an oscilloscope (looks like a Tek 535 or 545). Of course you would want one!
  3. IBM 701 assembly floor
    Two oscilloscopes are seen on the assembly floor (looks like a Tek 511 in front and a Tek 512 in back).
  4. NTDS Combat Information Center training
    Two oscilloscopes are seen in the training center (one front and one back). The one facing forwards looks like a Tek 535/545.
  5. Assembly of IBM 1401 computers
    Look very closely at this photo. I count a dozen Tektronix scopes! The one in front looks like a Tek 535A or 545A.
  6. Building the ORACLE computer CPU
    Is that a Tek scope behind the 19" rack?
  7. RAMAC Assembly
    I see three Tektronix scopes in this picture, but there must be more.
  8. Los Alamos MANIAC computer
    One scope in the very back of the lab, looks like a Tek 511.
  9. Operators at the ILLIAC IV at NASA Ames Research Center
    The lone 400-series scope in these pictures. Perhaps a Tek 465?
  10. Max Palevsky and Robert Beck, in the lab
    Another laboratory picture with a Tek 535A/545A scope front and center.
  11. PDP-1 computer
    A Tek scope on a cart, with a rack-mount scope above it.
  12. Fairchild co-founders in discussion
    Tek 575 curve tracers, as far as the eye can see! There are six on the nearest bench (three facing forwards and three facing backwards).
  13. The Beast at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab
    Robot development at APL, with a Tek 551 dual-beam scope.
  14. Sven Wahlstrom and Nils Nilsson with Shakey
    In the very back of the lab, there appears to be the back of a Tek scope on a cart.
  15. Spiral scanner at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
    In the back, a Tek 535A/545A scope on a cart.

With that many pictures of oscilloscopes in the museum, shouldn't Tektronix scopes have an exhibit of their own?

(Sorry for the giant list of links. My cell-phone photographs of the photographs didn't turn out very well, so I thought that it was better to link directly to the source.)

Postscript: I am aware of the Vintage TEK Museum in Portland, Oregon (I haven't had a chance to visit yet, but it's on my 2012 list). However, I think that classic Tektronix oscilloscopes belong in all museums, including computer history museums, science museums, fine art museums, etc... Don't you?


zebonaut said...

Nice collection. Thanks! The beast at John Hopkins Lab (a.k.a. Model II) is especially nice and we could consider it to be an ancestor of this mobile platform from the orange company I happen to know quite well.

Sam Reaves said...

I think the one with the Illiac IV is a 453 or 454. The height and top and bottom panels give it away.

Sam Reaves