Seattle’s Living Computers: Museum + Labs (LCM+L) always provides remarkable, hands-on experiences with technology for all ages, but the latest additions to this Sodo neighborhood institution truly bring their diversity to the forefront. With new exhibits on everything from Apple computers to Barbie playsets to a giant Cray-1 supercomputer, LCM+L has something for everyone.
“From the Garage to the iMac”
Their newest permanent exhibit, dedicated to the first two decades of the Apple Computer Company, showcases Apple technology “From the Garage to the iMac.” Most devices are available for visitors to experience, including the only Apple I available for public use.
Also on display is a special Apple demonstration computer that lived on a shelf in Steve Jobs’ office until 1985. “This is perhaps the most important individual computer in history,” says the executive director, L?th Carlson, “but it’s also the most boring to look at.” Recently acquired, this one-of-a-kind computer was built from a modified Apple I board in a prototype metal case and contains a chip loaded with Woz’s version of the program BASIC. Without this computer to demonstrate to investors, there might not be an Apple today.
“Barbie Gets with the Program”
LCM+L also installed a new temporary installation last month titled “Barbie Gets with the Program” that examines the history of toy computers in doll playsets and the evolution of representing women in computing.
In this groundbreaking special exhibition, LCM+L partnered with the Femicom Museum and independent exhibit producer Margaret Middleton to showcase the rich history of toy computers for girls along with the real computers that inspired them.
“We really wanted to tell the full story, with all perspectives considered,” says L?th, “and I think Margaret did a fantastic job of capturing the important issues at play here.” From 70s era travel reservation stations to writing code for a new game, come see first-hand how times have changed for Barbie.
The museum’s latest addition, the Cray-1 supercomputer, sits in all its red and gold glory in a corner by the stairs. A delight for the eyes with bright colors, see-through panels, and so many tiny wires it’s near impossible to comprehend, this supercomputer was designed by the brilliant Seymour Cray and cost between $5M-$8M in its day.
The Cray-1 will be joined later in the year by its brother the Cray-2 (nicknamed “Bubbles” for its liquid cooling system). “I honestly can’t overstate how important these two supercomputers are to computing history, and I am thrilled to be adding them to our collection,” says L?th. “Bringing these milestones back from the depths of storage has been an incredible journey, and we look forward to making them available to the public.”
With the world’s largest collection of usable computers from the 1960s through today, Living Computers: Museum + Labs truly has something for everyone. Whether you’re a total computer nerd ready to run a few lines of code or a newbie who wants to explore the stories of computing technology and play a few rounds of Oregon Trail, LCM+L has what you’re looking for.
To learn more and plan your visit, check out livingcomputers.org.