Big Beautiful Vintage Computers, And Where To Find Them

An IBM 3380E disk storage system, 5 gigabyte capacity.

[Ken Shirriff] recently shared some pictures and a writeup from his visit to the Large Scale Systems Museum, a remarkable private collection of mainframes and other computers from the 1970s to the 1990s. Housed in a town outside Pittsburgh, it contains a huge variety of specimens including IBM mainframes and desk-sized minicomputers, enormous disk and tape storage systems, and multiple 90s-era Cray supercomputers. It doesn’t stop there, either. Everything through the minicomputer revolution leading to personal home computers is present, and there are even several Heathkit HERO robot kits from the 80s. (By the way, we once saw a HERO retrofitted with wireless and the ability to run Python.)

Something really special is that many of the vintage systems are in working order, providing insight into how these units performed and acted. The museum is a private collection and is open only by appointment but they encourage interested parties not to be shy. If a trip to the museum isn’t for you, [Ken] has some additional photos from his visit here for you to check out.

30 thoughts on “Big Beautiful Vintage Computers, And Where To Find Them

  1. The joys of living in a country where computers were something people bought back then. Sadly the closest I could get to retrocomputing thus far has been seeing the remains of a S-100 backplane in a professor’s office.

  2. I’m also fascinated by the giant computers of the past. I have just one item that belonged to the mainframe: a 50 MB hard drive about 2 feet wide and 3 feet deep and weights a lot. I think it used old SASI interface.

    1. I second that. Largest collection of Cray Supercomputers anywhere. It’s the UNIX world equivalent to the LSSM and more. If you are in the Southeast, stop by and check it out.

  3. I met one of the curators at a small Retro Computer gathering in a Pittsburgh Library a few years back where I was showing off a ZX81 and a ZX81 built on an FPGA. They had just opened the museum. He was very knowledgeable of computers from the 70s-80s and was looking for more home computers for their display. I need to set up an appointment and make a trip to see the Cray supercomputers.

      1. That collector’s going to get it working and use it to help folks like the National Archives and Library of Congress capture all the stuff they still have on 7 track tape (yes there was such a thing) into a more modern format. :)

        There are collectors of everything. What’s important to you is not necessarily important to someone else. Should we also scrap and recycle a 1937 Bugatti? An Apollo Guidance Computer? The remaining space shuttles?

          1. No it’s a real problem. Like the recent moon landing video tapes that were discovered. The only machines that can play the tapes are in the hands of collectors. Studios and companies got rid of them decades ago.

    1. Sure let’s clear out all those museums taking up valuable real estate. Who cares about those paintings and artifacts. The past is fascinating and so is the technology. Understanding the evolution and how things work is critical for the future.

  4. Oh geez, thanks so much for the images. This stuff makes me all hot and bothered (the wife-unit will be harassed tonight).

    The Kaypro II looks to be in almost new condition ?!?! Would have liked to see more detailed images of the IBM 360 and DEC PDP11 stuff. Anything else available?

    I have the nameplate for the Lier Sieglar ADM3A terminal (it goes over the DIP switch recess), if they want it.

    1. Yes, we would very much like that nameplate for our ADM3A! In return we will be happy to send you many more detailed pictures of the big iron, outsides and innards, if you are interested. You can send it directly to: Large Scale Systems Museum, 924 4th Ave., New Kensington PA 15068. Or feel free to reach out to me directly at curator at cpmuseum dot com. (I manage the “small” systems exhibit located on the second floor, i.e. the PC’s.) Thank you!

  5. So many memories….of the bio and core kind…what a nice collection. Spotted a few favorites, though not the short-lived (15Mbyte?) DEC RK06, which was almost immediately replaced by the double capacity RK07

    FACE DOWN, 9 EDGE FIRST.

  6. Stuff like this reminds me I need to clean my garage and put some of my old retro stuff on eBay… Not doing me any good collecting dust in the garage, would rather sell it to someone who can enjoy it.

  7. Boy do I feel old. I remember getting trained on IBM 3480 tape drives when they were pre GA (general availability), flying out to the plant in Tuscon to get trained, watching construction of a special locked room on the already secure raised floor of the data center back home, having to cover a bank of the drives with a yellow tarp pulled tight by a heavy cable and closed shut with a heavy duty padlock, every eight hours having to open up the drives and verify the head serial numbers to prove there was no tampering.

  8. None of the rather amazing Tandem computers. Such an interesting and successful departure (fasting growing business in Silicon Valley for a good stretch) spawned out of HP and stack computers deserves a place. Maybe they are all still being used in banks and secure military computing?

  9. Mmm… I guess some people enjoy collecting stamps, (dead) butterflies and insects, old bulky non-comfortable furniture, so why not with mainframes.

    I went as far as collecting a (one) electrical fuse from a Mercury Ferranti mainframe. Still don’t know why nor what for…

  10. Two places to check out on either side of the country.

    Retro Computing Society of Rhode Island – https://www.rcsri.org – is homed in a warehouse facility in Providence, RI and hosts an monthly open house where they usualy pull a machine out into the hallway (the space is packed) and get it powered up and able to demo.

    Living Computer Museum in Seattle – https://livingcomputers.org/ – has an incredible collection of machines that have all been restored and are available to use. They’re open daily and have great events as well.

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