Szegedi informatikai gyűjtemény
An Europe-wide Unique Collection of Computer History
Report on the activity of the foundation of the Computer Science Museum, from the establishment up to now, together with its historical background
In the middle of the 70s, Győző Kovács was the first one who came up with the idea of preserving all items from the past related to Hungarian development and application of computer science. In this sector, equipment outdate in every few years, in a pace unknown in the history of science before. This is not some kind of fashion but has always been an economic necessity just as nowadays it is.
This initiation, hosted by the John von Neumann Computer Society (NJSZT) and the Hungarian Museum for National Science and Technology (OMM), found favor among native operators of big computers. Handing these machines, which once were huge investment, over to the depot of a future museum, enormously simplified the whole process of their withdrawal of service.
By a fortunate coincidence, on the premises of the predecessor of the National Oil Company Ltd. (MOL Rt.) in Algyő (10 km from Szeged) the - in the meantime within the NJSZT founded - History of Engineering Association, was given us a row of barracks which were suitable to use as a depot. Full configurations, units, peripheries and documentation all condemned to be withdrawn from service were transported from all over the land. The barracks got slowly filled with equipments, that represented the whole range of achievements of the national and international applications and developments.
These depots were a haven for almost every significant instrument from the punch-card data processors through the 'giants' (Razdan, Minszk, ICT, Elliot, Siemens, IBM, Honeywell etc.) up to the PC-era and for products that are milestones of Hungarian development (M3 drum-memories, logical machine from Prof Kalmár, machines produced by the research institutes EMG, VILATI, SZTAKI, BME, IKV, Telephone-fabric, GAMMA, KFKI etc.). The computers of Hungarian production (by EMG, VIDEOTON, MOM and the members of the R-series (10, 22, 40, 55) play an important role in the collection. At this place were the Zentai-legacy stored, which contains documentation on computers from all over the world from the 'punchcard'-age on.
In 1985 the oil industry required the barracks, that is, everything had to be stuffed on 500m2 area available. Under this constraint, where the machines were laid on each other in several layers many of them got to a very bad condition.
From the beginning of the 90s on, in Budapest and its surroundings there has been 25 tons of machines offered us and the KFKI provided us with a depot to store them. In 1992, the Foundation of Computer Science History came into being which provided the whole collecting project with an institutional framework. Its founding fathers were the NJSZT, OMM and the State Computer Service (ÁSZSZ), that is, all those institutions which had already helped the work of the collectors before. At the headquarters of the ÁSZSZ a very nice permanent exhibition was set up by the executive staff of the Service.
At the beginning of the nineties, the stock kept on growing without a break. Even the depots of the ÁSZSZ got full and a new assembly place were set up in Cegléd where, with the help of an enthusiastic local teacher, a significant amount of outdated machines were handed over to our Foundation.
At this point, we realized, that the only possible way to the final setup of the collection as a museum is within the scope of a state-owned and a municipal institution respectively, where maintenance, operation and development are guaranteed.
For this reason, we decided to reject all offers for the commercial use of the collection. This was a very risky decision, because the Oil Company MOL Ltd. in Algyő, let us know that they needed the barracks where the whole collection was squeezed in and asked us to vacate them. Those were very hard times for us but we did our best to find a way out of this plight. Luckily, we found supporters on the executive floor of the MOL Ltd. and thus - at least for the time being - we could avoid evacuation. With the permanent support of the local media (TV, radio stations, press) who symphatized with our case from the very beginning we could keep our depots in Algyő. In the meantime the ÁSZSZ was disbanded and privatized, so we had to pick up the permanent exhibition items and the machines in the depots, and transport them to somewhere else. Luckily, the organizers of the International Fair of Szeged in 1997 set up an exhibition on the history of computer science and thus we could have the stock transported from the ÁSZSZ to Szeged at their expense. The exhibition which was composed by Endre Tóth was a great success and an opportunity to finally show a part of our collection to the wider public in Szeged as well. The attendance was even so high, that after the official close-down of the fair it was prolonged for more than a month. In the same year László Kalmár was greatly honoured, he was given posthumous by the 'Computer Pioneer Award' from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (with its head office in the USA). He was among the first ones in Central and East-Europe with this award. The representatives of the organization who presented the family of Prof László Kalmár with the award, visited the exhibition as well and expressed their great appreciation.
In 1997 was a great turning-point in the history of the collection. The Minister of Education at that time visited Szeged and as a part of his schedule he visited the depots in Algyő. This event was organized by an MP, and one of our greatest supporter Péter Lednicky, the director of the Vivendi Ltd.
One of the participants at this event was Prof Béla Rácz, university teacher, Vice-Rector of the University of Szeged (SZTE), who was very impressed by the sight of the collection which was stored in dreadful conditions. Shortly after he announced, that with the approval of the leaders of the University, they can provide a place for our machines in a building at the former 'Kossuth' army camp. This building has already been owned by the University for some time. We moved our machines here, to this former workshop hall of 900m2. The transport costs were borne by the MOL Inc. The machines that were also dismantled after the closure of the International Fair, and were stored in miserable conditions, were resettled here as well. This transport was pay the Vivendi Inc.. The result of this for weeks lasting transport was a relatively adequate kind of a storage, yet not in a logical and assessable way at all.
Our collection, even in this unorganized form has often been visited by students and teachers of various educational institutions. The exhibition 'From the cave drawings to the CD' on computer science history at the Móra Ferenc Museum was mainly based on our valuable pieces. One of the pearls of the collection, the 'Logical Machine from Szeged' (constructed by Prof László Kalmár) was put on display at the exhibition 'Dreams of Dreamers. World-famous Hungarians' which was dedicated to the Millennium.
At the beginning of 2002, the university offered us an another building of their own to store our stock, located at the former Soviet army camp. Now, in the former barrack-room building for privates, secluded, on the ground, first and second floor, we were finally able to organize our machines, instruments and documents in good conditions, in a way which at best fits our aims and objectives.
We moved there in February, 2002 and it was pay by the university. At this ca. 2400 m2 place we could make all our plans aimed at an accessible layout, which we can easily catalogue and where we can raise an inventory-real. We arranged a researcher's room for the archives given by the OMFB, to let those students work with them, who chose the history of computer science as the subject matter for their thesis.
In the same month the Senate of the University of Szeged adopted the University Development Plan which includes the grounding of the Museum of Computer Science History. At the same time building was designated at the same former army camp, which will serve after renovation and enlargement, as the final site for the collection. A very important step this time, that the City of Szeged ordered a feasibility study of a new building which may serve as a permanent museum for the collection. This study was finished in 2003.
We had a lot to do. A totally new electric system had to be built, and a reliable alarm system too, which at any break-in-attempt would make an alarm signal at the camp security centre. There was a lot to clean-up, because the move and the transportation left behind their traces on the horizontal surfaces, which were not really spotless even before. This would have cost us very much, if some of our sponsors ( Vivendi Inc. , New Royal Conto Ltd., Symantec) had not pay the bills.
After that we had to order the depots, to find and put together parts and units of configurations that were spread during the transport, in order to make the collection suitable for an exhibition. Although we were able to have the majority of the job (to assemble configurations, set up the exhibition) done from the sum donated by the Polygon Ltd. and the New Royal Conto Ltd., yet it was only in October possible, to have all those equipment of ca. 20-30 tons weight transported, which were stored at several places in Budapest, through the financial support of the Ministry of National Cultural Heritage.
We applied for support to the Ministry of IT and Telecommunications and received promises in return (nothing else!). The City Government of Szeged donated us with a considerable sum to have the building painted. The University of Szeged accounts for the power supply and the security service. The various faculties and departments have also supported us by assuming the expenses which are mainly of maintenance and cleaning of the building, in line with their budgets.
The stock has grown considerably in 2005, its estimated weight was around 160-180 tons, whereas the number of the items were more than 10.000. In 2006, two associated members, the University of Szeged and the City Government of Szeged, were added to the memberships of the Foundation.
Among our founders we find the NJSZT which is our strongest supporter, they literally make us possible to develop and take care of the collection. Thanks to the NJSZT we could start to raise an inventory, to enlarge the electric wire system, acquire tools, transport the objects which are sometimes several hundred kilos weigh inside the building, and to put machines into service etc. Throughout the year we received huge amounts of raw material from the area of fixed line networks (ca. 20 tons, several thousand items). We arrange them up to this day. We started to set up a room called 'here everything is working' where, according to our plans, every visitor can see every item in operation, from the punch-card machines through the laser data transmission to the PCs. We also arranged a room where there are exclusively products which are developed and/or made in Hungary. We made the Prof László Kalmár memorial room ready for the visitors. We added ca. 8 tons of material that was given us by the OMM. Now we do not have any problems with the cleaning-up of the museum building anymore - the director of the cleaner company, which accounts for other university buildings, got to know our work and aims and then offered us to have everything cleaned we want to, for free. (This is a very lavish present because before that, it had cost us 100.000 HUF to have one level cleaned and now we work and receive visitors on three levels).
At the end of the year, there was an event, crucial to the entire future of the Foundation. Thanks to the NJSZT, the legal anomalies concerning the articles of incorporation were solved and by decree of the Court of Budapest on 29, November 2008 the new Board of Trustees was confirmed. According to the decree the head office of the foundation is still located in Budapest (Andor u. 47-49, 1119), whereas the actual museum can be found in Szeged. (H-6728 Szeged Budapesti út 5., 6728 - this serves as a postal address too). The president of the trustees board is Prof Béla Rácz, Vice-Rector for Strategy at the University of Szeged. The bank account of the Foundation has been relocated to Szeged, thus no longer posing problems in the course of daily matters. Our number of visitors has gone up to 1200 persons during this year. We have made efforts for years, to have our collection as an official Museum recognized, but every attempt has failed up to now. At the beginning of 2007 the NJSZT took over the reins in this halting matter, in order to get it done. Finally, our hard work was marked by success, on the 30th of March, according to the permission Nr. MGY/10938/2007 from the Ministry of Culture and Education, we are allowed to use the title 'Museum-like Public Collection of the History of Computer Science' (official categorization: Public Museum-Type Collection) and thus take part in Hungarian cultural life, which gives us some hope, that we can raise the attention of the representatives of the Hungarian IT industry to this unique treasure we have, and they would find our efforts to preserve and take good care of it, worthy of support.
As we are getting closer and closer to the end of the story, there is one important milestone to mention. Unlike the old plans from 2003, (aimed at constructing a new building) the City of Szeged has ordered and made done a feasibility analysis and plans to the alteration and renovation of a building at the same 'Öthalom' campus. According to that, the complex that can host the collection in line with the standards of the XXI. Century, would cost 240 million HUF + VAT. The Board of Representatives will decide on this matter in January, 2008. We are going to take every opportunity we have (sponsors, tenders) to make our plans real and to provide this national treasure with the worthiest place.
Just a few days ago, before the end of the year we have had a very happy event. Our Foundation has been donated with 2.000.000 HUF by the Council of Hungarian Internet Providers (ISZT Kht.). Now we can fulfill some old wishes in the field of development, for example we can buy PCs for the bookkeeping and for the editing of information booklets, now we can set-up a video-environment to present the films we have, we can purchase a digital camera for the booklets, and to be able to pay for the cooperation of external experts (who can make out an invoice) and so on.
There are three experts who look after the collection on a voluntary basis: I, who wrote this report, Béla Csorba and dr. Mihály Bohus. The visitor's attendance is considerably getting higher and higher this year, and every positive acknowledgement in our guestbook goad us, the caretakers, into further efforts. Our aspiration is to asses and to examine every item and make it ready for an inclusion into a permanent exhibition. We try to trace devices that are working and make them useful to the visitors.
This is the short summary of the history of our collection on the 15th of December 2007.
dr. Dániel Muszka