If you love historical computers and famous gadgets, then you should visit the Computer History Museum (CHM). Not only is the CHM one of Silicon Valley’s top attractions, it also holds one of the world’s largest collections of computer artifacts. Equally important is its location in Mountain View, one of the prominent communities that helped establish Silicon Valley. Although Apple Park and Googleplex are must-sees, CHM will complete your technology tour of this center of innovation. Here then, are just a small portion of the famous computers and gadgets you can see.
Computer History Museum
1401 N. Shoreline Blvd.
Mountain View, CA 94043
Current Hours: Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Current Admission Policy
The CHM requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination for all visitors, including all children. Additionally, visitors are required to wear a protective mask until further notice.
Altair 8800 (1975)
The Altair 8800 is quite famous among computer historians and geeks. On the other hand, if you’re not familiar with this gadget, you’ll quickly realize how famous it is. Developed by MITS, the Altair 8800 was the first commercially successful personal computer. Furthermore, the Altair BASIC programming language was created by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, who eventually founded Microsoft.
Apple I (1976)
One of the rarest and most famous desktop computers you can see at CHM is the Apple I. After all, this was the first product offered by Apple Computer. Furthermore, it was designed and built by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Equally important is the fact that only 62 of these gadgets have been confirmed to exist. In light of this, the most recent sale of an Apple I went for $500,000 in a U.S. auction. If you look closely at the Apple I at CHM, you’ll notice Steve Wozniak’s “Woz” autograph at the top.
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Apple Macintosh (1984)
The Apple Macintosh is one of the most famous in a line of growing products from Apple. For one thing, it was the first commercially successful desktop computer with a graphic user interface and mouse. For another, the Macintosh was the first of a long line of products that you now know as an IMac, Macbook etc. The Apple Macintosh made a huge splash when it was introduced in a now iconic ad during Super Bowl XVIII.
Enigma Machine (1935)
At first glance, this Enigma machine looks like a vintage typewriter encased in wood. On the contrary, this gadget was used by Germany to create encrypted messages during World War II. You may recall the Enigma machine was featured in the 2014 movie The Imitation Game about the efforts to crack the code. If you can read German, you’ll see a set of instructions on how to maintain the machine inside the case.
Google’s First Production Server (1998)
Before Google became the world’s largest search engine, it operated out of a garage not far from the Computer History Museum. However, it wasn’t too long for consumers to notice that Google’s search engine was superior to competitors like Excite and Netscape. In the early years, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin used this rack of PCs and Ethernet routers, on display at CHM. Equally important is that this server was donated to the Computer History Museum by Google.
IBM Personal Computer (1981)
Also known as model 5150, the famous IBM PC was the first microcomputer offered by IBM. In years prior, IBM was a major provider of computer mainframes for businesses. However, the company began to realize how important personal computing had become in the late 1970s. Upon its release, the IBM PC was an instant hit and its design set the standard for personal computers. This first version of this famous computer came with Microsoft’s MS-DOS operating system, which later became Microsoft Windows.
Model ADC 300 Modem (1968)
Did you know that modems have been around since the early 1920s? In fact, modems evolved from the telegraph machines to transit data across phone lines. Moreover, these gadgets played an important role for the military during the 1940s. By the 1960s, the Bell 101 was the first commercially available modem. While several vintage modems are on display at the Computer History Museum, the Anderson-Jacob Model ADC definitely stands out.
Neiman-Marcus/Honeywell Kitchen Computer (1969)
If you’re able to visit the Computer History Museum, there’s a good chance you haven’t seen one of these. This is a Honeywell Kitchen Computer that was offered by luxury department store Neiman Marcus. In this case, it was much too expensive at $10,000. To put it in real terms, the price was $71,000 if you purchased it today. Not only was it expensive, it took up kitchen space and was heavy, weighing 100 pounds. Thankfully, in today’s day and age, you can use something more practical for recipes, like an iPad or Microsoft Surface.
Pong Prototype (1972)
If you enjoy video games, you’ve probably heard of Pong. Although video games date back to the 1940s, it wasn’t until the 1970s when these gadgets gained popularity. In fact, Pong was one of the early video games to launch the video game industry. To illustrate, Pong was a game similar to table tennis (ping pong) with paddles and a digital ball. This Pong prototype on display was originally installed in a bar just minutes from CHM. Pong helped its developers Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney establish Atari, Inc.
The Sol-20 is a famous computer in more ways than one. In the first place, it’s the first microcomputer with a built-in keyboard and video output. Moreover, it was the best-selling computer gadget until the 1977 trinity displaced it. In fact, this trinity of products are on display at the Computer History Museum. In detail, they are the Apple II, Commodore PET and Radio Shack’s TRS-80. Lastly, the designer of Sol-20 was Lee Felsenstein, a founding member of the legendary Homebrew Computer Club.
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Bonus Recommendation: World’s Smallest Computer (2018)
University of Michigan Micro Mote (M3)
The Micro Mote isn’t that famous outside of those in the field. On the other hand, haven’t you always wondered what’s the world’s smallest computer? And just how small is it? The University of Michgan says it’s so small that 150 of these gadgets can fit inside a thimble. In clearer detail, it’s amazingly small, at just .3 mm by .3 mm. So what does it do you ask? It acts as a sensor for temperature and pressure. It further operates as an image sensor.
Insider Tip on the World’s Smallest Computer
You cannot see the Micro Mote inside CHM’s main galleries. Instead you will find it in a glass display case just pass the welcome center. After you see this gadget, you should also visit the adjacent technology exhibits. For instance, you can see a World of Warcraft exhbit, exhibits on texting and Wikipedia, and a Car Crash Simulation.
About The Author
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS Local from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across 23 CBS websites, including CBS New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a reported digital audience reach of 489 million and 5.5 million monthly visitors. Additionally, his stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS Radio, Engadget and Radio.com.