If I asked you where the American Computer and Robotics Museum was, where would you think it was located? Silicon Valley? Washington DC? New York City? Nope. It is in Bozeman, Montana! Yep! That’s right. It is at 2023 Stadium Dr, Suite 1A, Bozeman, Montana, near the University of Montana.
The American Computer and Robotics Museum, formerly known as the American Computer Museum, was opened in 1990 and was intended to be located in Princeton, New Jersey. That was until the founders moved to Bozeman, Montana. As far as I know it is the oldest museum dedicated to the history of computers in the world. There was a museum in Boston that opened first, but it closed in 1999.
We were actually headed over by the Bozeman area to check out the northern side of Yellowstone (about an hour away). As we were driving around in the city, Mama Nomad looked up some local attractions and this one popped up. We had never been to a museum dedicated just to the history of computers, so we were in.
When we arrived, the outside is very unassuming. You would never know what was contained inside its walls by looking at it from the outside. Honestly, it looked like just another office building. But, when you entered, things changed.
The museum is divided into multiple different areas. The first room you walked into actually walked you through the history of how computers came into existence which began with the Antikythera Mechanism, an astronomical mechanical computer invested in 87 B.C.E., and ended with the first successful personal computer, the Altair (1975) and the Apple I (1976). The museum has a Popular Mechanics magazine signed by Bill Gates (one of the writers of the BASIC operating system for the Altair) and a circuit board signed by Steve “Woz” Wozniak, the inventor of the Apple 1. Who knew this little museum would have such notable history.
The museum takes you through the invention of the printing press, telegram, batteries, telephone switchboards, alternating and direct current electrical principles, electric lights and more.
Then we fast forward to space travel. We see the Apollo Guidance Computer & Display/Keyboard, the first watch into space (Omega) and the last surviving mainframe computer used by NASA for the Apollo 11 Mission. Guess what? In 1994, Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11 Astronaut) visited the museum.
From here you get to see the first microprocessors made by Intel Corporation, the Intel 4004. And you get to view the 1st Commercial Computer, the CEC 30-103, by Clifford Berry. You can also see how computers were originally instructed, the Plug Board. What a mess of wires! Things became easier and more efficient when computers moved to punch cards. Using the US Census as an example, it used to take 8 years to calculate. With punch cards the process took less than 1 year!
From here we jump into an area where many of today’s population would identify the names of the technology but not the devices themselves. Take a look at where your smartphones, home video gaming consoles and home computers came from. Can you believe it? I bet your mobile phone, Xbox/Playstation/Wii or PC/Mac look nothing like these.
Next we jump into organic computing. That would be your brain. This area cross compared the different brains from the T-Rex to modern man. A typical dog has about 160 million neurons. Most would consider a chimpanzee smarter than a typical dog. That is because it has about 6.7 billion neurons. Now, there are some who would claim that there is only a few percent difference in the genetics between man and chimpanzee. Well, modern man has an average of 100 billion neurons, almost 15 times more than a chimpanzee. That is a huge difference!
After the organic computing area we move onto robots. These are mainly fictional ones from Lost in Space to Star Wars. And then onto cyborgs, again, fictional ones like iRobot, the Terminator, and the Borg.
One thing I found interesting is an actual history of the Internet from ARPANET to today’s interconnected web. Hint – Al Gore did not invent it. The most interesting thing, believe it or not, was an image comparison between a section of the brain showing billions of neurons. Then, next to it, you see an image of millions of interconnected computers on the internet. It looks very similar. Was the Internet patterned off of our brains or was it happenstance?
The final area goes into the cryptography and mechanisms used in World War II, like the Enigma Machine that the Germans used to send encrypted messages. Most people these days do not fully appreciate the ingenuity that went into its design. The Enigma Machine had 107,458,687,327,250619,360,000 different combinations (over 100 sextillion). And even less appreciation to those who actually finally cracked it.
This was a super interesting museum. It was a Nomad Special – a diamond in the rough off of the beaten path. If you are a history or technical enthusiast, I suggest you check out the American Computer And Robotics Museum in Bozeman, Montana. Safe Travels.