Chm Blog Curatorial Insights

Echoes of History

By Dag Spicer | June 14, 2023

Visits with computing pioneers are magical. Recently, Jim Sutherland, creator of one of CHM’s most intriguing artifacts, came to the Museum’s environmentally controlled storage facility with his son and grandson to see something he made over half a century ago.

Sutherland was the visionary engineer who, in 1965, built a home computing system based on minicomputer parts he had scavenged from work. He called it ECHO IV, an acronym for the "Electronic Computing Home Operator."

ECHO quickly caught the attention of the media, appearing in dozens of publications. Like some of today’s coverage of new technology, the tone vacillated from wonder to irony. Even Jim’s wife Ruth remarked at the time, “At first, I thought it might really replace me!” Read the full story here.

The Sutherland family in front of ECHO IV. Jim sits at ECHO IV’s keyboard. His wife, Ruth, puts a raincoat on daughter Sally, while Jay and Ann look on. (Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1966)

Jim’s son Jay and grandson Evan took a transcontinental flight to visit CHM and see, perhaps for the last time, this wonderful invention of nearly 60 years ago. It was deeply moving to witness Jim’s joy at rediscovering something he had not seen in decades, seeing his pride at showing his grandson what he had built, and hearing Jay’s detailed memories of using ECHO IV as a young boy of about Evan’s age.

Occasions like this are great opportunities for revisiting the history of specific objects and asking questions of their creators. As former CHM Trustee Donna Dubinsky once said, “We live in an era when we can ask the great inventors of our days directly about their work . . . imagine being able to go up to Michelangelo and ask him questions.” And so, earlier that day, while Jay and Evan were on a guided tour of CHM, I conducted an extended oral history with Jim about ECHO IV as he sees it from today’s perspective. Stay tuned!

Main image:  From left, ECHO IV, Jim, Jay, and Evan Sutherland at CHM, May 18, 2023.



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About The Author

Dag Spicer oversees the Museum’s permanent historical collection, the most comprehensive repository of computers, software, media, oral histories, and ephemera relating to computing in the world. He also helps shape the Museum’s exhibitions, marketing, and education programs, responds to research inquiries, and has given hundreds of interviews on computer history and related topics to major print and electronic news outlets such as NPR, the New York Times, The Economist, and CBS News. A native Canadian, Dag most recently attended Stanford University before joining the Museum in 1996.

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