Tom Kilburn

April 27, 2023 - (Free)

Tom Kilburn was a computer scientist and mathematician from England. During his 30-year career, he made major contributions. Kilburn was regarded as a pivotal role in the early history of computer design.

image of Tom Kilburn


  • On August 11, 1921, Tom Kilburn was born in West Yorkshire, England. His father, John William Kilburn, was a statistics clerk who eventually worked as a corporate secretary.
  • Kilburn received his specialized training at Wheelwright Grammar School. At the age of 14, the headmaster gave him permission to take nearly no other classes. He became a more accomplished mathematician after attending school.
  • Kilburn received multiple scholarships and enrolled in Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge in 1940 to complete his undergraduate studies. He received First Class Honors in both the preliminary test and Part I of the Mathematical Tripos in 1942.
  • During World War II, several Cambridge mathematicians worked at Bletchley Park. Despite this, Kilburn actively participated in the mathematical community.
  • Kilburn was chosen to represent Sidney Sussex College in the Cambridge University mathematical society known as the New Pythagoreans. He came into contact with a lot of people who contributed to the growth of computing.

Kilburn at war

  • Kilburn heard C.P. Snow speak about hiring individuals for vague military jobs during his final year at Cambridge. Kilburn would have reportedly enlisted in the RAF as a pilot. His position was downgraded to navigator, nevertheless. Since Kilburn preferred to be in command, he did not like the notion.
  • Kilburn spent his time during the war doing a number of quick courses in electronics and magnetism. He was hired by the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) in Malvern and assigned to the F. C. Williams-led Group 19 there.
  • Kilburn was not greeted with much enthusiasm by the gathering. Kilburn was the additional person dispatched after Williams asked for someone to join his group. They did not want someone who lacked practical experience and had no interest in electronics or electronic devices, according to Group 19.

Kilburn: The Manchester Baby


  • Kilburn had a good foundation by the time the Second World War ended. In 1943, he tied the knot with Irene Marsden. Despite a rough start in his professional life, he eventually contributed significantly to Williams’ club.
  • Kilburn was appointed scientific officer in interim status. After leaving TRE, Williams accepted the Edward Stocks Massey Chair in Electro-Technics at Victoria University of Manchester. Williams made arrangements for Kilburn to collaborate with him so that they could continue their work on creating the cathode ray tube (CRT) memory.
  • Kilburn and Williams created a CRT in 1947 that could hold patterns for a very long time. Kilburn claimed that building a computer was the only method to test whether the CRT system functioned.
  • Kilburn began work on creating the Manchester Baby. The first electronic stored-program computer was thought to be this little experimental device. The Manchester Baby broadcast its first episode on June 21, 1948.
  • The device served as the first functional illustration of a digital electronic stored-program computer. Although the Manchester Baby wasn’t very renowned, it set the groundwork for significant advancements in the field of computer science.


  • Kilburn had planned on going back to TRE after the Manchester Baby was finished. The Ministry of Supply immediately hired them to develop and construct a full-scale, commercial computer in accordance with Williams’ demands due to the Baby’s performance, which was however quite significant.
  • Williams was aware of Kilburn’s crucial contribution to the undertaking. Williams tried to get Kilburn to stay at the university so he could continue working on the prototype by offering him a job as a lecturer.
  • The creation of a prototype machine was the first important step. The Manchester Mark I was the name of it. It was expanded to become a full-size computer. The two-level store and instruction modification registers were the machine’s two main characteristics. The Manchester Mark I also included a magnetic backup drum store that served as an additional random-access storage device.
  • After the Baby was finished, engineers, not mathematicians, had to take the lead in future computer advances. Kilburn now has control over future advancements in the computing industry.
  • After producing major work in 1951, Kilburn jumped right into developing the Mark II computer. It was sometimes referred to as Meg, the megacycle machine. The Meg gave a tenfold increase in clock rate that significantly increased the dependability and floating-point functionality while replacing the Mark I valve diodes with a solid-state equivalent. Kilburn created a 10-bit parallel CRT memory because Mark I’s CRT memory was incompatible with the Meg.
  • In 1954, Meg operated satisfactorily, and Ferranti created the Mercury commercial version.

Kilburn: Transistor Computers


  • After creating the Meg, Kilburn oversaw the creation of the tiniest feasible economic computer with the help of a Manchester design team that included included Dai Edwards, Tommy Thomas, Dick Grimsdale, and Douglas Webb.
  • Kilburn and his team discovered that transistors might be used to construct the device. Two prototype transistor computers that allowed for the best programming and employed a pseudo-two-address instruction format were ordered.
  • A 48-bit device that was commonly regarded as the first functional transistor computer in history was created in November 1953. A more advanced computer with 1,300 diodes and 200 point-contact transistors was created by April of 1955.

Kilburn: Muse and Atlas


  • Kilburn intended to create a big, quick machine that would fully utilize both current and next technology. The Muse (microsecond) project was the name of the endeavor.
  • The Muse made use of pipelining, autonomous transfer units, interleaved storage, multiprogramming, spooling, task scheduling, and virtual storage. The scope and aspirations of the machine were compared to those of the IBM Stretch and Univac LARC projects.
  • Kilburn was aware that the research might be supported by the Department of Electrical Engineering’s available resources. Ferranti and the government first turned down the Muse idea, though.
  • Fortunately, the project that was dubbed Atlas included Ferranti and NRDR. A cutting-edge program from Atlas is termed the supervisor supervised drum transfers. A key forerunner of virtual memory, it is a one-level-store concept with a fast and slow store that looks as a single fast store.
  • Kilburn was in charge of the undertaking and took part in circuit design.

Kilburn: MU5


  • The MU5 was Kilburn’s final significant computer undertaking in 1996. The fundamental objective of the MU5 was to develop computer architecture that would be effective at running high-level language programs.
  • The MU5 was defined as a collection of three devices, including a multiprocessor, a high-spec scientific computer with 20 times the throughput of the Atlas, and a tiny, low-cost computer.
  • The MU5’s associative name store, which uses a scalar variable that automatically resides in a quick cache-store, is another important feature.