LSSM is located in a downtown shopping district in New Kensington, PA, a small city about fifteen miles outside of Pittsburgh. We are in a storefront-style building with two (soon to be three) floors of exhibits.
We opened to the public in October of 2015. Since then, we've welcomed guests from all over the world, and have run over a thousand guided tours as of early 2020.
We are staffed by a loosely-knit group of about a dozen regular volunteers. We are all career engineers and technicians with solid backgrounds in electrical engineering and computer technology. We range in age from late-20s to mid-60s, and between us we bring a wide range of technical expertise to the museum.
We maintain our computer system exhibits to the best of our abilities. When dealing with electronic and mechanical systems that are, in some cases, half a century old, things break…that just comes with the territory. When something breaks, we haul out our multimeters, oscilloscopes, and soldering irons, and fix it.
We know there will come a time when these systems are no longer maintainable. But we believe that we can give the next generation, and possibly the next, one last chance to experience what these early computers were like. More than reading about them in a book, looking at pictures, or looking at a “dead” system behind glass. The sights, sounds, and even smells of computing in the 1960s and 1970s are all here. And yes, we said smells…some early computers stored data by punching patterns of holes in strips of oiled paper tape, which has a smell all its own, a fact to which any old computer guy can attest!
The name of our museum is Large Scale Systems Museum (“LSSM”), but the legal entity is called Museum of Applied Computer Technology. The latter name is an “umbrella” organization under which LSSM operates, but it's all the same museum.
My name is Dave McGuire. I'm an engineer in my early 50s, and I've been passionate about technology since I was a child. As a teenager in the mid-1980s, I lucked into a DEC PDP-11/34A, a powerful computer system about the size of two household refrigerators placed side-by-side, and it resided in my bedroom. It wasn't an “antique computer” at the time; it was just old enough to be mostly unwanted in a typical commercial environment. But it belonged to a class of systems known as “minicomputers”, which are powerful, serious machines designed for scientific or business applications. While all of my friends were playing games on their little Atari, Apple, and Commodore systems, I taught myself half a dozen programming languages on that big PDP-11. This naturally and directly led to my career as an engineer.
Using large, powerful computers both at work and at home is just how my life has always been. I loved my systems, and I ended up just keeping the old ones as I upgraded, occasionally running them for fun and nostalgia in my free time.
When respected museums such as The Smithsonian started exhibiting the same types of computers that I had in my house, I began to daydream about eventually building a museum dedicated to just computers. This has been done before; there are several such museums in the world today. But I wanted to build one that was a bit different. Restoring systems to operational condition is something that very few such museums do, but due to my background and knowledge of these systems, I thought that if I could present systems in a fully operable state, people would be able to experience them, rather than just look at them.
In October of 2015, about twenty years after I started really thinking hard about building a museum, LSSM opened its doors to the public. With the help of many friends and dedicated volunteers who shared the same dream, it's here for all to enjoy.
Come and experience what things were like when computers actually had personality!