|Inventors of the Modern Computer|
|The Mark 1 Computer - The Williams Tube - Frederick Williams and Tom Kilburn|
By 1946, a winner in the data-storage game emerged that would dominate the computer field for the next several years. Sir Frederick Williams and Tom Kilburn co-invented the Williams-Kilburn Tube (or Williams Tube), a type of altered cathode-ray tube. Scientists had conducted research on cathode-ray tubes serving as computer data storage since the early 1940s.
The illustration to the right is an example of the video display terminal used with the Manchester computer. The terminal mirrored what was happening within the Williams Tube. A metal detector plate placed close to the surface of the tube, detected changes in electrical discharges. Since the metal plate would obscure a clear view of the tube, the technicians could monitor the tubes used a video screen. Each dot on the screen represented a dot on the tube's surface; the dots on the tube's surface worked as capacitors that were either charged and bright or uncharged and dark. The information translated into binary code (0,1 or dark, bright) became a way to program the computer.
The Williams Tube provided the first large amount of random access memory (RAM), and it was a convenient method of data-storage. It did not require rewiring each time the data was changed, and programming the computer went much faster. It became the dominant form of computer memory until outdated by core memory in 1955.
of the Manchester Baby
Williams had already succeeded in storing one bit of information on a cathode-ray tube and had filed a provisional patent in December of 1946. Tom Kilburn soon devised an improved method of storing bits, increasing the storage capacity to 2048 bits. Williams added Kilburn's name to the patent. The team was ready to build a computer based on the Williams Tube.
In 1948, Tom Kilburn, assisted by
another TRE researcher, Geoff Tootill, worked on designing and building
a prototype machine. Nicknamed "The Baby," the new computer demonstrated
the ability of the Williams Tube. For the first time in history, a computer
used a stored program. Tom Kilburn wrote that computer program, first executed
on June 21, 1948.
The team designed
a second computer (Manchester Mark 1) and commissioned an outside company
called Ferranti Ltd. to build the computer in 1949. Ferranti Ltd. and the
Manchester University team collaborated in 1951 and built the world's first
commercially available general-purpose computer called the Ferranti Mark
1. The first machine off the production line was delivered to the University