Computer Chronology

Computer Chronology

Collection captures continuum of technology


As millions of Americans sit staring into computer screens — working, video chatting, playing games, buying groceries — there’s a new exhibit waiting for the doors to reopen at the Rogers Historical Museum that couldn’t be more perfect. It’s titled “Personal Computers: Early 1970s to Late 1980s,” and it is largely the collection of one man who was born before a microprocessor was a gleam in Dell’s eye.

Born three months before Pearl Harbor in Flint, Mich., Tony Militch started messing around with electronics when he was in junior high — “back in the ’50s before transistors,” he clarifies. “I never had a formal class in electronics or computers; it was all self-learned. Electronics was something I just wanted to do.”

An Automatic Send and Receive (ASR) is an electromechanical teleprinter, also called a teletypewriter. This model, manufactured from 1965 to 1976, was designed for office work, but is based on a more rugged unit originally built for the U.S. Navy. It has an internal punch tape reader, seen on the left of the machine, and used specific sized paper with holes punched along the edges. In the late 1970s the Rogers Police Department upgraded their computer system and installed an ASR at the station on Elm Street.
(Courtesy Photo/Rogers Historical Museum)

And that interest, he adds, was the catalyst for his career. “Electronics got me into audiology, and audiology kept me in electronics.”

Audiology is defined as “the branch of science and medicine concerned with the sense of hearing.” Militch started with a degree in elementary education, then a master’s in deaf education, then a doctorate in audiology in 1971.

“In 1971, I also bought my first computer,” he says, sounding like someone remembering the first great love of his life. “They called it a ‘mini-computer,’ but it was like a big box, usually put in an equipment rack, and you could hardly lift it. And that was just the processor — no screens, none of that yet.

“Shortly thereafter, microprocessors came about,” he continues the story. “I started building those from kits, and as computers got small enough — and cheap enough — I was developing systems to test hearing. I was one of the pioneers in that area.”

Militch’s goal was to work in research and development, and his timing was perfect. He moved into a new field called occupational audiology — testing workers for hearing loss caused by their jobs — and testing multiple people at once was key. “So I had kind of a market,” he says modestly. “So in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I developed the first audiometers to test up to six people at a time.

“I’m one of a few people in the country that is a computer engineer and audiologist — there are very few occupational audiologists,” he adds. “I’ve designed circuit boards, I still write software, I’m developing a little team of people scattered throughout the country handing off stuff I do and focusing on research stuff. I’ve been an expert in the field since the late ’70s, and now I’m 78 years old and still don’t know how to spell ‘retired.’”

But Militch has been fighting cancer for some time, and he needed to to find a home for his personal collection of vintage computers, some of them so rare they would fit fine in museums like the Smithsonian. Enter the Rogers Historical Museum.

“There are some computer museums around the country, but I like the Rogers Historical Museum,” says Militch, who moved to Northwest Arkansas several years ago. “I want them to have a good home, and this is perfect.”

Built in the mid-1970s by the Process Computer Systems company of Flint, Mich., the Micropac 80/A was not originally designed to be a stand-alone computer. However, through a deal with Intel, a microprocessor was installed in addition to a basic operating system. It is considered a minicomputer, which means it was sized between large mainframe computers and their smaller cousins, the microcomputers which came out in the 1980s. Of the 100 or so companies to have made minicomputers, only a small group survived. Each minicomputer had its own software architecture and operating systems, and they were designed for human interaction and communication, not calculations like their predecessors.
(Courtesy Photo/Rogers Historical Museum)

“While we are not a technology museum, we cannot overlook the importance these historical pieces have played in today’s world,” says Terrilyn Wendling, the museum’s assistant director and curator of collections. “The unique collection shows the changes from large minicomputers, which are smaller than mainframe computers but larger than desktop computers, to the first commercially available Tandy Radio Shack desktop computer. We’ll also show how computers were able to get smaller with the introduction of the computer chip instead of punch cards and cassettes, plus memory cards and the evolution of the floppy disk.

“The entire collection is amazing,” she adds. “Most computers, the plastic yellows and cracks, and these computers are in amazing condition. The computers from the 1970s don’t even look like what we all recognize as computers; they are large metal boxes with toggle switches and lights. Unless you have worked in the field of early computer technology, everyone will learn something. Seeing how unique these computers are will also be exciting, as you often only see them in movies.”

PCS also made the Superpac 180. Considered one of the first completely integrated computers, it was launched in the mid-1970s. It boasted a small screen and keyboard, but it also included expandable memory and could be attached to a larger screen or other components to make it more functional.
(Courtesy Photo/Rogers Historical Museum)



‘Personal Computers: Early 1970s to Late 1980s’

WHEN — Scheduled to run through June 27; opening date remains undecided

WHERE — Rogers Historical Museum

COST — Free

INFO — 621-1154 or

By the 1980s, users wanted smaller, lighter and IBM-compatible computers. Several companies had achieved part of that wish list, but it wasn’t until 1985 that Toshiba checked all the boxes. In 1987, the company improved on a previous model with the T1000. This model was compatible with IBM software, but unlike the IBM Convertible, it had an operating system already installed and ports for an external monitor.
(Courtesy Photo/Rogers Historical Museum)

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