Tom Kilburn papers

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 MUC/7
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      20 items

Scope and Content

A small collection of papers relating to the computer scientist Tom Kilburn (1921-2001), best known for his work on developing computers at the University of Manchester. The collection comprises a mixture of Kilburn's own academic papers, and material about him collected by others. It is assumed that staff in the former Department of Computer Science selected those of Kilburn's papers which they considered important, and then added information to these in the years after his retirement and death.

Administrative / Biographical History

Tom Kilburn was born at Earlseaton, near Dewsbury in 1921. He attended the local Wheelwright Grammar School and then Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he completed his degree in mathematics in two years according to wartime regulations. In 1942, Kilburn joined the Telecommunication Research Establishment at Malvern, where he worked on radar with Frederick Williams.

In 1946 Williams was appointed professor of electro-technics at the University of Manchester, and Kilburn joined him as research assistant. One of Williams' research interests was the use of cathode ray tubes to store information for use in electronic computers. By late 1947, Williams and Kilburn had demonstrated that CRT storage was workable, and Kilburn then developed a basic computer to test this CRT memory storage. The computer known as the SSEM or more popularly the Baby', was able on 21 June 1948 to run the first stored computer program. This was a major breakthrough ,and Kilburn worked on developing the functionality of this machine. An enhanced version of SSEM known as the Manchester Mark 1 was developed and this was further developed by Ferranti Ltd, into the first commercial computer-the Ferranti Mark 1. With the Mark I operational, Williams spent less time on computers, and it was left to Kilburn to develop this aspect of the Department of Electrical Engineering's work.

Kilburn led a research team which develop further computers including MEG, which used locating point hardware to conduct mathematical calculations (a commercial variant of MEG called Mercury was developed by Ferranti). A Mercury computer was used by the University between 1957 and 1963, followed by the Atlas and Mu5 machines.

Kilburn was promoted to reader in electronics in 1955, and was made professor of computer engineering in 1960. he oversaw the development of the new Department of Computer Science in 1964. He was Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1976 to 1979. Kilburn retired in 1981, and was made an emeritus professor.


The collection had no discernible series, so it has been decided to arrange and describe by the constituent items.

Acquisition Information

The archives were transferred from the School of Computer Science in 2012; one item added in 2016.