Early Computing in Britain
Ferranti Ltd. and Government Funding, 1948 — 1958
- Author: Simon Lavington
This unique book presents the story of the pioneering manufacturing company Ferranti Ltd. – producer of the first commercially-available computers – and of the nine end-user organisations who purchased these machines with government help in the period 1951 to 1957. The text presents personal reminiscences from many of the diverse engineers, programmers and marketing staff who contributed to this important episode in the emergence of modern computers, further illustrated by numerous historical photographs. Considerable technical details are also supplied in the appendices.
Most excellent - I’ll have to get a copy when I see one second-hand or discounted. From the front matter:
The focus of the story is particularly on those who worked for one manufacturing company, Ferranti Ltd., and for the nine end-user organisations who purchased the first Ferranti computers in the period 1951–1957. It is a story grounded in technology but brought alive by personal experiences and practical compromise. Here you’ll read of short-term social impacts and longer-term evolutionary adaptations, as new and untried equipment began to have an impact.
Why is this story of relevance to the emergence of modern computers? The 10-year period 1948–1958 was of great significance. The first Ferranti computer,which was prosaically called the Mark I, was the first production machine to have been delivered anywhere. A copy of this and improved versions called the Mark I* (Mark One Star) were the first substantial computers to have been delivered in Canada, Holland and Italy. And whilst American companies such as UNIVAC and IBM were selling tens of computers to their home market during the early 1950s, Ferranti seemingly had the rest of the world to itself.
I bet Lavington will do a second volume on Ferranti - there’s much to say about their development of semiconductor manufacturing, their succession of large-scale low-volume computers, the divestment of that business into what became ICL, and the continuation into rugged minicomputers for the military market. And then, their F100-L adventure, a 16 bit microprocessor, and their ULA business which helped Sinclair, Acorn, and Amstrad make cheap home computers using semi-custom chips to mop up logic.