Preserving Computing History: Innovation, Mothballs, Pioneers, and Our Future


Date Thursday February 5th 2004
Time 4:00-5:00pm
Venue George E. Pake Auditorium

PARC Forum

The computer is an extraordinary invention, and the resulting information age has changed society across our globe forever. While change in computing technology is mostly taken for granted, the lessons and stories of this revolution are ironically being lost every day

Whether it’s 1, 10, or 100 years in the future, will people understand where these pioneering technologies came from and what can be learned? The mission of the Computer History Museum is to preserve and present for posterity the artifacts and stories of the information age by bringing a rich heritage and exciting future to computing history. As an independent public benefit organization, it is home to one of the world’s largest collections -mainframes, PC’s, software, storage, Internet and networking artifacts, memorabilia, photos, videos, etc. The history of this industry is a set of real stories that convey its struggles, innovation, and persistence. This story begins with the Museum’s vision of how history can be captured, preserved, and exhibited in its new building in Mountain view, while at the same time making it accessible to everyone.

The presentation will cover some of the challenges and successes of this preservation effort, with a discussion of the evolution of the Computer History Museum itself. John will also talk about some of the Museum’s artifacts and why they are important, and explore some of the interesting challenges of presenting history for the future. How can authentic information be preserved? How might we present software in exciting ways, even to those not in this industry? What happens to companies from a historical viewpoint? How can we address different technical and educational audiences? How can we learn from the past? How can we use the dynamics of research and our industry to help create new solutions? These and other provocative questions will be discussed in the context of being operational in the first phase of the Museum’s new building in Mountain View, CA.


As the executive director and CEO of the Computer History Museum, John C. Toole oversees and drives the overall strategic vision of the Museum, and reports directly to the board of trustees. The Museum's charter is to explore the worldwide computing revolution and its impact on the human experience. In this position, Toole leverages more than 28 years of research and development experience in advanced computing, networking, information technology and microelectronics, culminating in national leadership positions in science and technology management across industry, academia, and government.

Formerly one of two deputy directors at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications(NCSA) at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, Toole oversaw the technical operation and coordination of the National Computational Science Alliance throughout the United States. It is one of two initiatives funded by the National Science Foundation's Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI) program.

Prior to the NCSA, Toole was the first fulltime director of the National Coordination Office (NCO) for Computing, Information, and Communications. He also served as executive director for High Performance Computing and Communications for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and as acting director - after several years as program manager and deputy office director - of DARPA's Computing Systems Technology Office (CSTO), which was responsible for advancing computing systems technologies.

Toole retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994 after more than 22 years of service. In addition to his DARPA experience, he managed a VLSI Computer Aided Design (CAD) branch, studied computer engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, worked in hardware/software performance analysis of large scale computing systems, and designed and implemented portions of real time operating systems. Toole holds BS and MSEE degrees from Cornell University.

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