A museum of computer history

TU Delft houses a small history of computers and technical paraphernalia at the Vitrinemuseum. The collection includes items from the 1920s and on.

Retired professor Kees Pronk is the curator. When moving buildings in the early 1990s, there was a box of odds and ends that no one seemed to own. It started the collection that now fills the two display cases along with a large storage room in the basement. “I regularly switch out the contents on display with things in storage. “I still get stuff every month from various faculties like aerospace and physics, even from outside the university,” explains Pronk. 

The collection includes items from the 1920s and on. Interesting vintage pieces are disc drives, handheld tablets, a Commodore, analog computers, punch cards and calculating discs. The difference is vast when compared with the electronics we use today. One such item displayed is a vacuum tube used in computers in the 1950s. It would take about 10,000 of them to run a computer that now can do less than a simple cell phone.

“I like the items that have a story,” reveals Pronk when prompted for his favourite piece. The most recent item added to the collection is a hand punch for control tape of a IBM 1403 printer. “I worked for KLM and did my first programming on an IBM 1401,” says Pronk. Punch cards are also displayed. “In the late 1960s IBM made about one million punch cards a day,” says Pronk. He seems to have an interesting tidbit for every item on display, made more interesting by the fact that he has worked with almost all of it.

Although the collection houses nothing of monetary value, there are some collectors’ items. With vintage computer equipment there can be some items that are considered rare and others that are run of the mill. “A Sinclair ZX81 is easy to find, but a ZX80 is considered a collector’s item since it is harder to find,” explains Pronk.

Most of the items are non-functioning, but the collection is well-marked and interesting just to look at.  Now computers are everywhere and have increased in their capabilities and complexity. “An average car has fifteen computers in it. A complex 747 airplane has twenty-five million parts. A modern computer chip has fifty million parts,” reveals Pronk.

You can visit the Vitrinemuseum in the EWI practicum building on the mezzanine or get more information on it on their website:

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