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Remembering ‘Baby’ – first computer that ran electronically stored program 65 years ago

| On 21, Jun 2013

First ever practical implementation of the stored program concept took place exactly before 65 years today as the Manchester Small Scale Experimental Machine aka ‘Baby’ became the world’s first computer to run an electronically stored program on June 21, 1948.

The ‘Baby’ was developed by Frederic C. Williams, Tom Kilburn and Geoff Tootill at the Manchester University and it wasn’t any ordinary system that you would find today [PDF]. ‘Baby’ served as a testbed for the experimental Williams-Kilburn tube – a cathode ray tube that was used to store binary digits aka bits. The reason this became a milestone in computing history was that up until ‘Baby’ ran the first electronically stored program, there was no means of storing and accessing this stored information in a cost-effective and flexible way.

Baby consisted of one of the Williams-Kilburn tube acting as its RAM capable of storing up to 1024 bits (128 bytes) of data. The system wasn’t developed to be a full scale computational tool but, was rather a proof of concept system in a bid to show that new form of memory was reliable. Once this was proved attention and efforts were channeled towards building powerful and practical systems that used Baby’s concept.


Success of Baby led to development of Manchester Mark 1, which later resulted into the development of the first computer to be sold commercially – the Ferranti Mark 1. Nothing of the original Baby remains but, a working replica of the Manchester Small Scale Experimental Machine has been kept on display at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Manchester.