Manchester Baby

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Manchester Baby
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{{EngvarB|date=September 2017}}{{Use dmy dates|date=June 2018}}

The Manchester Baby, also known as the Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM),JOURNAL, Burton, Christopher P., Replicating the Manchester Baby: Motives, methods, and messages from the past, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 2005, 27, 3, 44–60,weblink 10.1109/MAHC.2005.42, was the world's first electronic stored-program computer. It was built at the University of Manchester, England, by Frederic C. Williams, Tom Kilburn, and Geoff Tootill, and ran its first program on 21 June 1948, {{Time ago| 21 June 1948|spellout=yes}}.{{citation |last=Enticknap |first=Nicholas |title=Computing's Golden Jubilee |journal=Resurrection |issue=20 |publisher=The Computer Conservation Society |date=Summer 1998 |url= |issn=0958-7403 |access-date=19 April 2008 |archive-url= |archive-date=9 January 2012 |dead-url=yes |df=dmy-all }}The machine was not intended to be a practical computer, but was instead designed as a testbed for the Williams tube, the first truly random-access memory. Although considered "small and primitive" even by the standards of its own time, it was nonetheless the first working machine to contain all the elements essential to a modern electronic computer. As soon as the Baby had demonstrated the feasibility of its design, a project was initiated at the university to develop it into a more usable computer, the {{nowrap|Manchester Mark 1}}. The Mark 1 in turn quickly became the prototype for the Ferranti Mark 1, the world's first commercially available general-purpose computer.{{citation |last=Napper |first=R. B. E. |title=Introduction to the Mark 1 |url= |publisher=The University of Manchester |access-date=4 November 2008 |deadurl=yes |archiveurl= |archivedate=26 October 2008 |df=}}WEB,weblink The 'Baby' that ushered in modern computer age, Briggs, Helen, 2018-06-21, BBC, 2018-06-21, The Baby had a 32-bit word length and a memory of 32 words (1 kilobit). As it was designed to be the simplest possible stored-program computer, the only arithmetic operations implemented in hardware were subtraction and negation; other arithmetic operations were implemented in software. The first of three programs written for the machine calculated the highest proper divisor of 218 (262,144), an algorithm that would take a long time to execute—and so prove the computer's reliability—by testing every integer from 218 downwards, as division was implemented by repeated subtraction of the divisor. The program consisted of 17 instructions and ran for about 52 minutes before reaching the correct answer of 131,072, after the Baby had performed about 3.5 million operations (for an effective CPU speed of about 1100 instructions per second).


File:Maquina.png|thumb|Artistic representation of a Turing machineTuring machineThe first design for a program-controlled computer was Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine in the 1830s. A century later, in 1936, mathematician Alan Turing published his description of what became known as a Turing machine, a theoretical concept intended to explore the limits of mechanical computation. Turing was not imagining a physical machine, but a person he called a "computer", who acted according to the instructions provided by a tape on which symbols could be read and written sequentially as the tape moved under a tape head. Turing proved that if an algorithm can be written to solve a mathematical problem, then a Turing machine can execute that algorithm.{{citation |last=Turing |first=A. M. |publication-date=1936–37 |year=1936 |title=On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem | periodical=Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society |series=2 |volume=42 |pages=230–265 |url= |doi=10.1112/plms/s2-42.1.230 |access-date=18 September 2010}}Konrad Zuse's Z3 was the world's first working programmable, fully automatic computer, with binary digital arithmetic logic, but it lacked the conditional branching of a Turing machine. On 12 May 1941, it was successfully presented to an audience of scientists of the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt ("German Laboratory for Aviation") in Berlin.WEB,weblink Rechenhilfe für Ingenieure Konrad Zuses Idee vom ersten Computer der Welt wurde an der Technischen Hochschule geboren,weblink" title="">weblink 13 February 2009, yes, German, Technical University of Berlin, cs2, The Z3 stored its program on an external tape, but it was electromechanical rather than electronic. The Colossus of 1943 was the first electronic computing device, but it was not a general-purpose machine.{{sfnp|Copeland|2010|pp=91–100|ps=none}}The ENIAC (1946) was the first machine that was both electronic and general purpose. It was Turing complete, with conditional branching, and programmable to solve a wide range of problems, but its program was held in the state of switches in patchcords, not in memory, and it could take several days to reprogram.WEB,weblink Early Electronic Computers (1946–51), University of Manchester, 16 November 2008, cs2, yes,weblink" title="">weblink 5 January 2009, Researchers such as Turing and Zuse investigated the idea of using the computer's memory to hold the program as well as the data it was working on,WEB, Zuse, Horst,weblink EPE Online, Wimborne Publishing, Konrad Zuse and the Stored Program Computer, 16 November 2008,weblink" title="">weblink 10 December 2007, cs2, and it was mathematician John von Neumann who wrote a widely distributed paper describing that computer architecture, still used in almost all computers.{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|p=7|ps=none}}File:von Neumann architecture.svg|right|thumb|Design of the von Neumann architecturevon Neumann architectureThe construction of a von Neumann computer depended on the availability of a suitable memory device on which to store the program. During the Second World War researchers working on the problem of removing the clutter from radar signals had developed a form of delay line memory, the first practical application of which was the mercury delay line,{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|p=1|ps=none}} developed by J. Presper Eckert. Radar transmitters send out regular brief pulses of radio energy, the reflections from which are displayed on a CRT screen. As operators are usually interested only in moving targets, it was desirable to filter out any distracting reflections from stationary objects. The filtering was achieved by comparing each received pulse with the previous pulse, and rejecting both if they were identical, leaving a signal containing only the images of any moving objects. To store each received pulse for later comparison it was passed through a transmission line, delaying it by exactly the time between transmitted pulses.{{sfnp|Brown|1999|p=429|ps=none}}Turing joined the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in October 1945,{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|p=9|ps=none}} by which time scientists within the Ministry of Supply had concluded that Britain needed a National Mathematical Laboratory to co-ordinate machine-aided computation.{{sfnp|Lavington|1980|loc=chapter 5|ps=none}} A Mathematics Division was set up at the NPL, and on 19 February 1946 Alan Turing presented a paper outlining his design for an electronic stored-program computer to be known as the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE).{{sfnp|Lavington|1980|loc=chapter 5|ps=none}} This was one of several projects set up in the years following the Second World War with the aim of constructing a stored-program computer. At about the same time, EDVAC was under development at the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Electrical Engineering, and the University of Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory was working on EDSAC.{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|pp=8–9|ps=none}}The NPL did not have the expertise to build a machine like ACE, so they contacted Tommy Flowers at the General Post Office's (GPO) Dollis Hill Research Laboratory. Flowers, the designer of Colossus, the world's first programmable electronic computer, was committed elsewhere and was unable to take part in the project, although his team did build some mercury delay lines for ACE.{{sfnp|Lavington|1980|loc=chapter 5|ps=none}} The Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) was also approached for assistance, as was Maurice Wilkes at the University of Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory.{{sfnp|Lavington|1980|loc=chapter 5|ps=none}}The government department responsible for the NPL decided that, of all the work being carried out by the TRE on its behalf, ACE was to be given the top priority.{{sfnp|Lavington|1980|loc=chapter 5|ps=none}} NPL's decision led to a visit by the superintendent of the TRE's Physics Division on 22 November 1946, accompanied by Frederic C. Williams and A. M. Uttley, also from the TRE.{{sfnp|Lavington|1980|loc=chapter 5|ps=none}} Williams led a TRE development group working on CRT stores for radar applications, as an alternative to delay lines.{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|p=5|ps=none}} Williams was not available to work on the ACE because he had already accepted a professorship at the University of Manchester, and most of his circuit technicians were in the process of being transferred to the Department of Atomic Energy.{{sfnp|Lavington|1980|loc=chapter 5|ps=none}} The TRE agreed to second a small number of technicians to work under Williams' direction at the university, and to support another small group working with Uttley at the TRE.{{sfnp|Lavington|1980|loc=chapter 5|ps=none}}

Williams–Kilburn tube

Although early computers such as EDSAC made successful use of mercury delay line memory,{{citation |last1=Wilkes |first1=M. V. |authorlink=Maurice Wilkes |last2=Renwick |first2=W. |title=The EDSAC (Electronic delay storage automatic calculator) |journal=Mathematics of Computation |year=1950 |volume=4 |issue=30 |pages=61–65 |url= |doi=10.1090/s0025-5718-1950-0037589-7 |access-date=21 June 2015}} the technology had several drawbacks; it was heavy, it was expensive, and it did not allow data to be accessed randomly. In addition, because data was stored as a sequence of acoustic waves propagated through a mercury column, the device's temperature had to be very carefully controlled, as the velocity of sound through a medium varies with its temperature. Williams had seen an experiment at Bell Labs demonstrating the effectiveness of cathode ray tubes (CRT) as an alternative to the delay line for removing ground echoes from radar signals. While working at the TRE, shortly before he joined the University of Manchester in December 1946, he and Tom Kilburn had developed a form of electronic memory known as the Williams tube or Williams–Kilburn tube, based on a standard CRT, the first random-access digital storage device.{{citation |title=Early computers at Manchester University |journal=Resurrection |volume=1 |issue=4 |publisher=The Computer Conservation Society |date=Summer 1992 |url= |issn=0958-7403 |access-date=19 April 2008 |archive-url= |archive-date=28 August 2017 |dead-url=yes |df=dmy-all }} The Baby was designed to show that the system was a practical storage device, by testing that data held within it could be read and written at the speed necessary for use in a computer.{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|pp=13, 24|ps=none}}For use in a binary digital computer, the tube had to be capable of storing either one of two states at each of its memory locations, corresponding to the binary digits (bits) 0 and 1. It exploited the positive or negative electric charge generated by displaying either a dash or a dot at any position on the CRT screen, a phenomenon known as secondary emission. A dash generated a positive charge, and a dot a negative charge, either of which could be picked up by a detector plate in front of the screen; a negative charge represented 0, and a positive charge 1. The charge dissipated in about 0.2 seconds, but it could be automatically refreshed from the data picked up by the detector.{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|p=12|ps=none}}The Williams tube used in Baby was based on the CV1131, a commercially available {{convert|12|in|adj=on}} diameter CRT, but a smaller {{convert|6|in|adj=on}} tube, the CV1097, was used in the Mark I.{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|pp=8, 12|ps=none}}

Genesis of the project

(File:Kilburn Williams Plaque cropped.jpg|thumb|upright|right|A plaque in honour of Williams and Kilburn at the University of Manchester)After developing the Colossus computer for code breaking at Bletchley Park during World War II, Max Newman was committed to the development of a computer incorporating both Alan Turing's mathematical concepts and the stored-program concept that had been described by John von Neumann. In 1945, he was appointed to the Fielden Chair of Pure Mathematics at Manchester University; he took his Colossus-project colleagues Jack Good and David Rees to Manchester with him, and there they recruited F. C. Williams to be the "circuit man" for a new computer project for which he had secured funding from the Royal Society.JOURNAL, Anderson, David, Max Newman: Topologist, codebreaker, and pioneer of computing, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 2007, 29, 3, 76–81, 10.1109/MAHC.2007.4338447, Following his appointment to the Chair of Electrical Engineering at Manchester University, Williams recruited his TRE colleague Tom Kilburn on secondment. By the autumn of 1947 the pair had increased the storage capacity of the Williams tube from one bit to 2,048, arranged in a 64 by 32-bit array,{{sfnp|Napper|2000|p=366|ps=none}} and demonstrated that it was able to store those bits for four hours.{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|p=13|ps=none}} Engineer Geoff Tootill joined the team on loan from TRE in September 1947, and remained on secondment until April 1949.{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|p=16|ps=none}}}}Kilburn had a hard time recalling the influences on his machine design:}}Jack Copeland explains that Kilburn's first (pre-Baby) accumulator-free (decentralized, in Jack Good's nomenclature) design was based on inputs from Turing, but that he later switched to an accumulator-based (centralized) machine of the sort advocated by von Neumann, as written up and taught to him by Jack Good and Max Newman.{{sfn|Copeland|2011|ps=none}}The Baby's 7-op instruction set was approximately a subset of the 12-op instruction set proposed in 1947 by Jack Good, in the first known document to use the term "Baby" for this machine.I. J. Good, "The Baby Machine", note, 4 May 1947, in Good, Early Notes on Electronic Computers (Virginia Tech University Libraries, Special Collections, collection Ms1982-018, the Irving J. Good papers) Good did not include a "halt" instruction, and his proposed conditional jump instruction was more complicated than what the Baby implemented.{{sfn|Copeland|2011|ps=none}}

Development and design

File:BabyArchitecture.png|thumb|250px|right|Architectural schematic showing how the four cathode ray tubecathode ray tubeAlthough Newman played no engineering role in the development of the Baby, or any of the subsequent Manchester computers, he was generally supportive and enthusiastic about the project, and arranged for the acquisition of war-surplus supplies for its construction, including GPO metal racks{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|pp=6–7|ps=none}} and "…the material of two complete Colossi"{{sfnp|Anderson|2010|ps=none|p=61}} from Bletchley.By June 1948 the Baby had been built and was working.{{sfnp|Napper|2000|p=366|ps=none}} It was {{convert|17|ft}} in length, {{convert|7|ft|4|in}} tall, and weighed almost {{convert|1|LT}}. The machine contained 550 valves (vacuum tubes)—300 diodes and 250 pentodes—and had a power consumption of 3500 watts.WEB,weblinkweblink" title="">weblink yes, 4 March 2009, The "Baby": The World's First Stored-Program Computer, Manchester Museum of Science & Industry, 15 November 2008, cs2, The arithmetic unit was built using EF50 pentode valves, which had been widely used during wartime.{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|p=13|ps=none}} The Baby used one Williams tube to provide 32 by 32-bit words of random-access memory (RAM), a second to hold a 32-bit accumulator in which the intermediate results of a calculation could be stored temporarily, and a third to hold the current program instruction along with its address in memory. A fourth CRT, without the storage electronics of the other three, was used as the output device, able to display the bit pattern of any selected storage tube.{{sfnp|Napper|2000|p=367|ps=none}}(File:SSEM Manchester museum close up.jpg|right|thumb|250px|alt=Three tall racks containing electronic circuit boards|The output CRT is immediately above the input device, flanked by the monitor and control electronics.)Each 32-bit word of RAM could contain either a program instruction or data. In a program instruction, bits 0–12 represented the memory address of the operand to be used, and bits 13–15 specified the operation to be executed, such as storing a number in memory; the remaining 16 bits were unused.{{sfnp|Napper|2000|p=367|ps=none}} The Baby's 0-operand instruction set|single operand architecture meant that the second operand of any operation was implicit: the accumulator or the program counter (instruction address); program instructions specified only the address of the data in memory.A word in the computer's memory could be read, written, or refreshed, in 360 microseconds. An instruction took four times as long to execute as accessing a word from memory, giving an instruction execution rate of about 700 per second. The main store was refreshed continuously, a process that took 20 milliseconds to complete, as each of the Baby's 32 words had to be read and then refreshed in sequence.{{sfnp|Napper|2000|p=366|ps=none}}The Baby represented negative numbers using two's complement,{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|p=14|ps=none}} as most computers still do. In that representation, the value of the most significant bit denotes the sign of a number; positive numbers have a zero in that position and negative numbers a one. Thus, the range of numbers that could be held in each 32-bit word was −231 to +231 âˆ’ 1 (decimal: −2,147,483,648 to +2,147,483,647).


The Baby's instruction format had a three-bit operation code field, which allowed a maximum of eight (23) different instructions. In contrast to the modern convention, the machine's storage was described with the least significant digits to the left; thus a one was represented in three bits as "100", rather than the more conventional "001".{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|p=14|ps=none}}{| class="wikitable" style="width:90%; margin:1em auto; clear:both; text-align:center;"Lavington|1998|p=15|ps=none}}! style="width:9%;" | Binary code! style="width:10%;" | Original notation! style="width:11%;" | Modern mnemonic! style="width:70%;" | Operation| 000| S, Cl| JMP S Jump to the instruction at the address obtained from the specified memory address S{{efnAs the program counter was incremented at the end of the decoding process, the stored address had to be the target address −1.}} (absolute unconditional jump)| 100| Add S, Cl| JRP S Jump to the instruction at the program counter plus (+) the relative value obtained from the specified memory address S{{efn|name=PCInc}} (relative unconditional jump)| 010| -S, C| LDN S Take the number from the specified memory address S, negate it, and load it into the accumulator| 110| c, S| STO S Store the number in the accumulator to the specified memory address SThe function bits were only partially decoded, to save on logic elements.{{sfnp1998ps=none}}}}| SUB S| SUB S Subtract the number at the specified memory address S from the value in accumulator, and store the result in the accumulator| 011| Test| CMP Skip next instruction if the accumulator contains a negative value| 111| Stop| STP Stop class="tfoot" style="text-align:left;"The awkward negative operations were a consequence of the Baby's lack of hardware to perform any arithmetic operations except subtraction and negation. It was considered unnecessary to build an adder before testing could begin as addition can easily be implemented by subtraction,{{sfnp|Napper|2000|p=367|ps=none}} i.e. x+y can be computed as −(−x−y). Therefore, adding two numbers together, X and Y, required four instructions:{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|p=15|ps=none}}Programs were entered in binary form by stepping through each word of memory in turn, and using a set of 32 buttons and switches known as the input device to set the value of each bit of each word to either 0 or 1. The Baby had no paper-tape reader or punch.{{sfnp|Napper|2000|pp=366–367|ps=none}}WEB,weblink SSEM Programmer's Reference Manual,, A3.3 Control Switches, 17 May 2018, WEB,weblink Manchester Baby Simulator,, Pictures, How to operate the Baby/Emulator, Discussion of the historical accuracy of the emulator, Technical Introduction to Programming the Baby (v4.0), 17 May 2018,

First programs

(File:CRT memory.jpg|thumb|alt=Small cathode ray tube in a rusty metal frame|Output CRT)Three programs were written for the computer. The first, consisting of 17 instructions, was written by Kilburn, and so far as can be ascertained first ran on 21 June 1948.{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|pp=16–17|ps=none}} It was designed to find the highest proper factor of 218 (262,144) by trying every integer from 218 âˆ’ 1 downwards. The divisions were implemented by repeated subtractions of the divisor. The Baby took 3.5 million operations and 52 minutes to produce the answer (131,072). The program used eight words of working storage in addition to its 17 words of instructions, giving a program size of 25 words.{{citation |last=Tootill |first=Geoff |title=The Original Original Program |journal=Resurrection |issue=20 |publisher=The Computer Conservation Society |date=Summer 1998 |url= |issn=0958-7403 |access-date=19 April 2008 |archive-url= |archive-date=9 January 2012 |dead-url=yes |df=dmy-all }}Geoff Tootill wrote an amended version of the program the following month, and in mid-July Alan Turing â€” who had been appointed as a reader in the mathematics department at Manchester University in September 1948 â€” submitted the third program, to carry out long division. Turing had by then been appointed to the nominal post of Deputy Director of the Computing Machine Laboratory at the university,{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|pp=16–17|ps=none}} although the laboratory did not become a physical reality until 1951.{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|p=17|ps=none}}

Later developments

File:Small_Scale_Experimental_Beer_Machine_Manchester_Brewdog.jpg|thumb|right|BrewDog named their microbrewerymicrobrewery Williams and Kilburn reported on the Baby in a letter to the Journal Nature, published in September 1948.JOURNAL, Williams, F. C., Frederic Calland Williams, Kilburn, T., Tom Kilburn, Electronic Digital Computers, Nature, 25 September 1948, 162, 4117, 487,weblink 22 January 2009, 10.1038/162487a0, cs2, yes,weblink" title="">weblink 6 April 2009, The machine's successful demonstration quickly led to the construction of a more practical computer, the {{nowrap|Manchester Mark 1}}, work on which began in August 1948. The first version was operational by April 1949,{{sfnp|Lavington|1998|p=17|ps=none}} and it in turn led directly to the development of the Ferranti Mark 1, the world's first commercially available general-purpose computer.In 1998, a working replica of the Baby, now on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, was built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the running of its first program. Demonstrations of the machine in operation are held regularly at the museum.WEB,weblink Meet Baby, Manchester Museum of Science & Industry, 17 November 2008,weblink" title="">weblink 26 June 2008, yes, cs2, In 2008, an original panoramic photograph of the entire machine was discovered at the University of Manchester. The photograph, taken on 15 December 1948 by a research student, Alec Robinson, had been reproduced in The Illustrated London News in June 1949.NEWS,weblink Photo of great grandfather of modern computers found, Roger, Highfield, The Daily Telegraph, 17 June 2008, 20 June 2008, cs2, NEWS,weblink Dead Media Beat: Baby, 20 June 2008, 21 June 2017, {{Clear}}







  • {{citation |last=Anderson |first=David |chapter=Contested Histories: De-mythologising the Early History of Modern British Computing |year=2010 |title=History of Computing. Learning from the Past | pages = 58–67 | publisher = Springer}}
  • {{citation |last=Brown |first=Louis |title=A Radar History of World War II: Technical and Military Imperatives |year=1999 |publisher=CRC Press |isbn=978-0-7503-0659-1}}
  • {{citation |last=Copeland |first=Jack |contribution=Colossus and the Rise of the Modern Computer |editor-first=B. Jack |editor-last=Copeland |title=Colossus The Secrets of Bletchley Park's Codebreaking Computers |publisher=Oxford University Press |year=2010 |isbn=978-0-19-957814-6}}
  • {{citation | last=Copeland |first=Jack |title=The Manchester Computer: A Revised History – Part 2: The Baby Computer|year = 2011|journal=IEEE Annals of the History of Computing|volume=33 |issue = January–March 2011|pages=22–37|doi=10.1109/MAHC.2010.2 }}
  • {{citation |last=Lavington |first=Simon |title=Early British Computers: The Story of Vintage Computers and the People who built them |year=1980 |edition=1st |publisher=Manchester University Press Society |isbn=978-0-7190-0803-0}}
  • {{citation |last=Lavington |first=Simon |title=A History of Manchester Computers |year=1998 |edition=2nd |publisher=The British Computer Society |location=Swindon |isbn=978-1-902505-01-5}}
  • {{citation |last=Napper |first=R. B. E. |contribution=The Manchester Mark 1 Computers |editor1-last=Rojas| editor1-first=Raúl |editor2-last=Hashagen |editor2-first=Ulf |title=The First Computers: History and Architectures |publisher=MIT Press |year=2000 |pages=356–377 |isbn=978-0-262-68137-7}}

Further reading

  • {{citation |first=David |last=Anderson |contribution=Was the Manchester Baby conceived at Bletchley Park? |title=Alan Mathison Turing 2004: A celebration of his life and achievements |publisher=British Computer Society |date=4 June 2004 |url= |access-date=16 November 2008 |ref=none}}

External links

{{commons category}}
  • weblink" title="">Computer 50 – The University of Manchester Celebrates the Birth of the Modern Computer, archived from, a website celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Baby in 1998.
  • weblink" title="">Digital60 – Manchester Celebrating 60 Years of the Modern Computer, archived from, a website celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Manchester Baby in 2008
  • weblink" title="">The Manchester Small Scale Experimental Machine – "The Baby", archived from
  • Manchester Baby Simulator software
  • weblink" title="">BabyRace â€“ Run original program on a mobile phone and compare the performance with the Small-Scale Experimental Machine
  • BBC article on Baby
  • Oral history interview with Geoff Tootill, a member of the team that designed and built the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine, recorded for An Oral History of British Science at the British Library.
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