The Computer History Museum contains the largest international collection of computer-related artifacts in the world, and the museum's exhibits guide you through the last 2,000 years of computer history. Depending on your background, that phrase can either get you excited or have you wondering why on earth anyone would pay to see a collection of outdated computer hardware. But whether you're interested in computers or not, this is a first-class museum that contains an amazing amount of artifacts and information.
It's not just about mainframes and supercomputers either, but has exhibits on computer games, artificial intelligence, computer graphics and robots. In what other museum can you learn to do calculations using Napier's bones, play Pong, see models of the earliest computers, hear the personal stories of the leading innovators in the technology industry, and learn the role that computers have played in almost every aspect of our lives from daily communication to space exploration?
The museum is conveniently located in the Silicon Valley town of Mountain View, California, which is home to a number of technology companies, including Google and Mozilla. Interested? We provide you with all the information you need to plan your visit to the Computer History Museum and share our experience of visiting this museum.
Table of Contents:
The Computer History Museum is located at 1401 N. Shoreline Boulevard, Mountain View, California 94043. It is very close to the intersection of Shoreline Boulevard and Highway 101.
Are you coming here?
You can reach the Computer History Museum by car or by taking public transport.
Driving is the easiest way to get to the museum. There is a car park at the museum and parking is free.
By public transport
You can takeCalTrainorVTA Light Railto the Mountain View station. So during the weekdays you can takeShoreline Caltrain Shuttleto the Pear Avenue stop, and the museum is a short walk from the shuttle stop. From the CalTrain/VTA station, you can also bike to the museum (about 2 miles).
Wednesdays to Sundays 10am to 5pm, closed Mondays and Tuesdays
General admission (as of February 2019) is $17.50 per person for those 10 and older. Children ages 8 to 10 are $6.00 and children under 8 are free. Admission for students, seniors and active military is $13.50 with proof.
Visit the Computer History Museumofficial websiteor call them at 650-810-1010 for more information on planning your visit, to find out about the latest exhibits, and to find out about upcoming lectures and educational opportunities.
• A daily schedule is displayed as you enter the museum with docent-led tours, demonstrations, workshops and lectures that you can choose to participate in. Check this schedule (or call the museum ahead of time) when you arrive so you can plan your visit accordingly. I highly recommend doing at least one of these as they are very informative.
• The museum is self-guided so you can explore at your own pace, but museum docents (a.k.a. guides) walk around and are there to answer any questions you may have. If you are interested in something, ask the docents! They are full of information and those we encountered were eager to share information about the various artifacts and exhibits.
• The museum is not small and it is full of artifacts and information. There is so much to see, read, listen to and see that you could easily spend all day here and not get through it all. We greatly underestimated this museum during our visit and ended up having to rush through the last sections due to fatigue and hunger. So plan accordingly by looking overvisitor cardor website and the daily list of docent tours so you can prioritize what you want to see before you start. This will help to avoid having to miss the sections that you or your companions really want to see.
• We would recommend that you allow at least 2 hours to see the main exhibition's 20 galleries and longer if you wish to attend any of the demonstrations or lectures. If you are short on time, you can see the museum'slist of highlights.
• For children, there are these cards you can pick up at reception called Discovery Cards, which can help you better explain each section of the museum to your children in a more concise and child-friendly way.
• Check for admission discounts onGrouponand similar coupon sites. We were able to get about 50% of our entries using a Groupon. I just checked and they seem to still have a Groupon deal for the Computer History Museum, so this could be a way to potentially save money if you plan to visit.
• Groups of 10 or more people should call or go online to make reservations, as you must make reservations at least 10 days in advance of your visit. Longer if you want a guided visit with a museum docent.
• There is an interesting gift shop that has a variety of computer, technology and Silicon Valley related souvenirs and novelty items. Worth a quick look around.
• The small Cloud Bistro serves coffee, sandwiches, salads, snacks and local wines. A good place when you need a break.
We recently visited the Computer History Museum for the first time despite only living 5 minutes away for the past three years. As you might guess, Ethan and I are not part of the tech industry and are not super into computers; However we decided to go as we had heard good reviews from friends and my family was visiting and my brother is more interested in computers.
When you go inside, you will see the information desk where you can buy your tickets. We each got a card and a cool little yellow badge. There is a board showing the day's special activities (docent-led tours, demonstrations, etc.) and we were encouraged by the staff to do the Babbage Engine demonstration, so we noted the demonstration time before entering the first exhibit.
Your first stop is the Orientation Theater where you will watch a short film introduction to the museum and to the history of computing. After the film, you enter the main part of the museum, which contains the 20 galleries of the "Revolution: The First 2,000 Years of Computing" exhibition.Who knew the history of computing was 2,000 years old?!
You start with compasses, abacus and calculators before moving on to punch card machines, early computers from the 1940s and 1950s, supercomputers, microchips, robots, computer games, the internet and all the way to the latest technological innovations of the day such as autonomous cars. Along the way, you will be able to see, read about, listen and interact with the multimedia exhibits.
Who invented the first computer? How have computers affected the exploration of space? Do IBM employees really sing company songs together? Why are teapots important to the history of computer graphics? What is artificial intelligence? Who invented Atari? How did the British crack the ENIGMA machine codes? How does my GPS work? These are just a few of the questions that can be answered during your visit to the Computer History Museum.
Note that some of the exhibits here change regularly. For example, I don't think Watson or the Babbage Machine are currently on display anymore at the museum.
Here are more photos of some of our favorite highlights from this part of the museum.
We also had time to attend the scheduled Babbage Engine demonstration, which was one of the highlights of our visit. In 1849, a man named Charles Babbage designed an automatic computing engine called Difference Engine No. 2.
For a number of reasons, it never came to fruition, and the 8,000-part machine was never built during Babbage's lifetime, and Babbage died not knowing for sure whether his invention would work. But in 1985 the staff at the Science Museum in London decided they would use Babbage's original designs and prototypes to try to design the machine faithfully as Babbage had specified to answer the nagging question of "would this have worked?".
It took over 17 years, but finally with the help of a very wealthy American benefactor, Nathan Myhrvold, the machine was completed in 2002. A second duplicate machine was also built for Mr. Myhrvold, which was intended to be displayed in his home; however, he was convinced to lend it to the Computer History Museum instead.
You can see the second Difference Engine No. 2 in the Science Museum in London; however, this is the only model you can actually see being used and demonstrated. Seeing the machine in action is quite fascinating as the calculating part when turned is like watching a bunch of moving double helices and it's amazing that something designed 150 years ago would actually work. But it works!
Note that the Babbage Machine has not been on display at the museum since January 2016. Seelatest list of exhibitions here.
Other exhibits during our visit included the PDP-1, a computer designed in 1959 as a "mini computer" in its day, although it's hard to think of anything weighing 1 ton as mini! There was also an exhibit related to Google Maps and Street View that allows you to sit inside the Google Street View car and ride a Google Street View bike. Both of these are worth quick stops.
Overall, my family and I underestimated the Computer History Museum and it got the better of us as we were all tired and hungry at the end of our visit. We spent a lot of time in the first 10 galleries of the Revolution exhibit and then had to rush through the last 10. If I were to repeat our visit, I would definitely have prioritized the parts of the museum I was most interested in seeing and pacing myself then.
My brother really enjoyed this museum and I think it was one of his favorite stops during his visit as he is really into computers but I think everyone in my family found it interesting. I went in with little knowledge of computer history and learned a ton from the exhibits and came away with a much greater appreciation for all the innovations that have led to all the devices and conveniences I take for granted.
I couldn't write this article and post it on a travel blog without a myriad of innovations, risks and discoveries from so many people!
If you have absolutely no interest in computers or technology, this probably won't be an enjoyable visit and I wouldn't recommend it. But even if you have a little interest in the subject, I think you'll be able to spend an enjoyable morning or afternoon learning about the people, machines and companies that have had such an impact on our modern technology-driven society.
Does the Computer History Museum sound interesting to you? Have you visited? We'd love to hear your thoughts!