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Researchers resurrect 'The Witch,' world's oldest working computer

witch computer

Researchers at the National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) in the UK have restored a massive, 1950s-era computer known as "The Witch," making it the world's oldest working digital computer. As BBC News reports, the machine was first activated in the 1950s, when scientists used it as part of Britain's atomic research initiative, but It wasn't long before the 2.5-tonne Witch was eclipsed by smaller, faster technology.

Originally known as the Harwell Dekatron, it was eventually transferred to Wolverhampton University, where it adopted the name of Witch (short for Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell). It was donated to the Museum of Science and Industry in Birmingham in 1973, where it was on display until 1997, when the museum's closing forced curators to dismantled it and put it in storage.

After 20 years, the world's oldest computer lurches back to life

The Witch would have likely remained there were it not for a man named Kevin Murrell, who stumbled upon it by chance in 2009. Murrell, a TNMOC trustee, noticed the machine while browsing through museum photographs, and eventually excavated all of its components from storage. Conservationist Delwyn Holroyd then set about restoring the computer, which he described as "pretty dirty," yet remarkably unscathed. Over three years, Holroyd and his team successfully brought the machine back to life, and were able to do so without replacing the vast majority of its parts.

The Witch will make its grand debut on November 20th, in a ceremony at Bletchley Park. Some of the machine's creators are expected to attend the event, as are many programmers who used the Witch to learn the ropes. Murrell, meanwhile, says the computer's restoration has historical significance, since it "gives us an understanding of the state of technology in the late 1940s in Britain."

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