Inside the Living Computer Museum founded by Paul Allen: Where PC history stays alive

Inside the Living Computer Museum founded by Paul Allen: Where PC history stays alive

In 2017 I went up to Seattle for PAX as usual, and while I was up there I heard about the Living Computer Museum, an institution in southern Seattle founded by Paul Allen to preserve PC history. I took a day off from the show to wander down there, got a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum, and then...never got around to writing about it. Fall's busy video game release season buried me, and while I eventually transcribed a full hour of audio and wrote the story, it seemed weird to run it six or eight months after the fact—so it just sat on my hard drive.

Paul Allen passed away yesterday though, and as a result it seems like a great time to celebrate one of his lesser-known ventures. What started as a bit of nostalgia for him, a PDP-10 in a nondescript Seattle warehouse, is now one of the best computer museums I've ever been to, a truly special place where visitors can go hands-on with everything from a CDC 6500 to an Apple I to a Xerox Alto.

Some of the details may have changed in the last 14 months—I don't, for instance, know whether the museum's gotten its CRAY-2 up and running yet. I hope you'll enjoy this look into the museum though, both its public-facing side and the enormous support operation it necessitates, and thanks to Paul Allen for his role in founding such a wonderful institution.

Living history

"Other museums put a glass in front of their computers. We put a chair." I toured Seattle's Living Computer Museum for over an hour with Executive Director Lath Carlson, but it's that one simple line that stuck with me most—a perfect encapsulation of what makes the Living Computer Museum special.

In a way, that's sort of the magic of it though. It's an oasis where these machines can seemingly run forever, untouched by the ravages of time, and for a moment we can be too.

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