World’s oldest digital computer rebooted

The Harwell Dekatron splutters back into life

Back when we were building computers out of hair rollers and paper clips the Harwell Dekatron was a work of genius, now it's a glorious homage to the birth of the digital age

The world’s oldest original digital computer nicknamed WITCH, was rebooted today following three years of restoration at the ripe old age of 61.

The Harwell Dekatron, also known as the ‘Witch’ was invented in 1951 to replace staff at the Harwell Atomic Energy Research Establishment. Made to crunch numbers, it was a hard worker putting in 80 hour weeks without a break.

To put it in comparison to the 21st Century, the computer contains 10,000 moving parts and takes up to 10 seconds to multiply two numbers.

Following its time as a mathematician, the computer was given to the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Technical College (now Wolverhampton University) to teach programming. This is where it gained its moniker, the Witch – Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell.

Donated to Birmingham’s Museum of Science and Industry in 1973, the old school computer was displayed for 24 years before the museum closed and it was dismantled and stored away.

This piece of history is now on display at The National Museum of Computing in Buckinghamshire.