Dell's History at Home in D.C.
Earlier this afternoon, Dell founder Michael Dell stopped by the Smithsonian Castle to hand over one of the first machines his company made--a squat desktop built in 1985, when the firm went by the name "PC's Limited" and made its home at an Austin office park's cul-de-sac.
This computer--a "Turbo PC" with an Intel 8088 processor and 640 kilobytes of memory--was sold to Clint Johnson, then a freelance writer in Florida. A couple of years later, Johnson (who showed up for the donation ceremony with his wife Barbara) realized the sales invoice listed him as customer number 100, figured the computer had historical significance and kept it around. When Dell opened a factory in 2005 near Winston-Salem, N.C., not far from Johnson's current home, he got in touch with Dell to offer a trade: Give me a new computer made in your new factory, and I'll give you the old model back. And so the machine wound up on a table in D.C.
The old machine looked in solid shape for its age--perhaps thanks to its hard metal case. Even the power button, a thick red switch on the side, looked sturdy. Johnson said the only replacement part on the inside was the hard drive, which he upgraded from 10 megabytes to a whopping 20.
The original invoice, which lists a price of $795 for the computer and $165 for the amber monochrome monitor, an order date of 12/19/1985 and the name of the Dell salesman, one Jim Lamb, sat in front of the computer. It also included Johnson's credit-card number and expiration date; it must have been a simpler time in terms of identity-theft risks.
Before signing the donation papers, Michael Dell spoke briefly about how he'd never expected any of this to happen way back when, and how much the PC industry had changed since then: "Twenty years ago, most of our customers were pretty happy just doing word processing on their PCs." Then again, how many people still buy computers for only one or two basic tasks?
Dell also compared the PC industry's diversity with Henry Ford's "any color, so long as it's black" single-mindedness. But Dell is only now beginning to offer some home buyers a real choice of software--Windows Vista or Windows XP today, with Ubuntu Linux coming soon. (In that respect, Dell is well ahead of other PC manufacturers.)
The old Dell will be on display starting tomorrow at the National Air and Space Museum, the temporary home of a small sample of the exhibits normally housed at the under-renovation National Museum of American History.
Got any ancient computers gathering dust in a closet, attic or the basement? Share your memories in the comments!
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