“Sir Frederic Williams (1911-1977) & Tom Kilburn (1921-2001)
Creators of the first Stored-Program Computer
Graduate and Professor of Electro-technics 1946-1977
Graduate and Professor of Computer Engineering & Computer Science 1960-1981”

Rutherford Building, Bridgeford Street

Subjects Commemorated: Professor Sir Frederic Williams & Professor Tom Kilburn

The History

This blue commemorative plaque can be found in The University Of Manchester campus area, just off Oxford Road in the city centre.

Professor Sir Frederic Williams was a British electrical engineer, educated at the University of Manchester. In 1939, he joined the staff of the Bawdsey Research station at the university, which led him to developing the first practical system of radar identification of friendly aircraft.

This system was the very start of modern systems which use intricate codes and varying radar frequencies, and in the early 1940s he went on to prefect the first fully automatic radar for use in fighter aircraft. 1946 saw him become professor of electrotechnics and he invented the Williams tube – a cathode-ray-tube memory system that was used in first-generation digital computers throughout the world.

He went on to become professor of electrical engineering at the University of Manchester and continued to develop his memory system even further, applying it to early computers. Sir Frederic Williams was knighted in 1976.

Professor Tom Kilburn¬†was a mathemeticial and computer scientist, who worked on the Williams-Kilburn tube alongside Professor Sir Frederic Williams. In order to test the tube, Kilburn designed and built a small-scale experimental computer known as “The Baby” in 1948. This became the world’s first computer which could hold both user program and data in electronic storage, processing it at electronic speeds.

He then went on to leading the development of two new pioneering computers that were then turned into commercial machines by UK manufacturers in the early 1950s. During his work on the development of the Atlas computer system, he developed modern concepts such as paging, virtual memory and multiprogramming – leading to the development of the most powerful computer in the world.

During his time at the University of Manchester, he became professor of computer engineering in 1960 and computer science in 1964.

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