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Ferranti Mark 1

the first commercial general-purpose electronic computer North West,

Black-and-white photograph showing a large room full of computer banks. Two men on the left of the image are at a desk.
The British Ferranti Mark 1 computer, 1951. Science Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

The Ferranti Mark 1 ushered in the era of commercial computing. Having already completed work on a fast-evolving series of experimental computing machines, Manchester scientists Tom Kilburn (1921-2001) and Freddie Williams (1911-77) went on to develop a commercially viable model. This was the Ferranti Mark I, the first of which was delivered to Manchester University in February 1951, only one month before the competing UNIVAC I began work in the USA.

Alongside its claim to fame as the world’s first commercially available general-purpose electronic computer, the Ferranti Mark 1 was also used to produce what is thought to be the earliest recording of electronic music. The songs ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’ and a shortened version of ‘In the Mood’ were played on the computer in the autumn of 1951 in Manchester and recorded by the BBC. In addition, Dietrich Prinz wrote a chess program for the Mark 1 - the first computer chess game.

Science Museum

Decade
Type
Computing, Engineering,
Region
North West
Location
University of Manchester
Key Individuals
Freddie Williams, Tom Kilburn,