I’m not sure humankind has ever witnessed something so impactful to human existence, change so drastically in such a short time, as the computer.
The car is close. Just 30 years after its invention, the car was accessible to most American families who were then able to travel longer distances in shorter periods of time. The car brought people closer together and expanded everyone’s horizons.
But just 40 years after the invention of the first personal computer, the Kenbak-1, almost every American adult carried a computer in the palm of his or her hand. And whereas the car brought people closer to their neighbors, the computer has given people immediate access to people and information anywhere on the planet.
Next July 20, on the 50th anniversary of man’s first walk on the moon, North Fulton will be blessed with the opening of the Computer Museum of America. Based out of Roswell’s Town Center, the museum will eventually be one of the most extensive collections of rare and antique computers in the world. When fully finished, the museum will show off rare items like the Kenbak-1. Only 14 of these are believed to exist in the world (only 40 were ever built). The first ever Apple Disk II with a serial number of 00001, and hand-wired by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, is there. There is a supercomputer exhibit, Arcade games, robots, magazines and thousands of original computer manuals.
I was lucky enough to attend an open house recently and tour the museum, which still has months to go before opening. The museum’s founder is local real estate owner and developer Lonnie Mimms. This vast and rare collection is the result of his life’s obsession traveling the world, meeting with hundreds of industry founders, and spending a whole lot of his own money amassing this collection of more than 250,000 artifacts, one of which is on display in the Smithsonian.
Be warned. If you get him talking about any one part of his collection, you are going to be there a while. There are stories behind every piece: how it was built, who built it, how the machine fit into the broader scope of computer technology at the time, how he found it. He loves his collection and was busting at the chance to tell everyone about it.
One exhibit at the open house showed the history of the personal computer. He had on display almost every model I ever saw growing up. Each one brought back the feelings I had as a child pushing the loud keys and writing reports, or playing what today are considered antiquated games, but back then were fascinating. He has a pop-up exhibit devoted to the story of Apple, featuring five Apple 1s, the original Lisa and the aforementioned Apple Disk II.
Another exhibit I really liked was devoted to Byte magazine. Byte was where industry experts would go to see the latest developments in computer technology. The museum displays on a single wall, in chronological order, every issue from the magazine. What makes this exhibit so interesting are the covers. Most were paintings created by Robert Tinney specifically for the magazine. He had his own artistic style and used it to create paintings that summed up the latest trends. It was fun to stand and look across the covers and literally watch computer technology age and progress.
In my opinion, the show-stopper of this museum will be Mimms’ collection of supercomputers. He has the world’s largest collection of Cray supercomputers. Seymore Cray was the father of supercomputing and the leading manufacturer of supercomputers since the 1970s when he built the Cray-1, and sold it for $8.8 million. Cray was known not only for building the fastest and most complex computers, but also some of the most stylish. The computers on display are the size of small cars and are artistic and fun to look at. The Cray-1 actually sits within its own walls and was built with bench-seating all around it.
I’m only scratching the surface. The museum will evolve over time as some collections are taken out to make room for other collections that are being kept in storage (what is on display now is merely a small fraction of Mimms’ entire collection). The current museum is about 35,000 square feet. In addition, there is a 10,000-square-foot ballroom that stretches along large glass garage doors that look out across the field of supercomputers. It is a wildly unique space to hold a party in and is available to rent out for corporate events, fundraisers or even weddings.
Classrooms are included in the space, and there are plans to add 65,000 square feet and a Geodesic Dome out over the entrance looking out to Holcomb Bridge and Ga. 9. There is still a lot of work to do before the official opening next July. But I can imagine computer people would flock to this much in the way others flock to the College Football Hall of Fame or the Aquarium downtown. With Alpharetta being considered the Tech City of the South, one would think this could be a jewel in the crown that is North Fulton, and really Atlanta.
Geoff Smith is a mortgage banker with Assurance Financial focusing on residential home loans for refinances and home purchases.
*The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of Assurance Financial Group