Flossie, the first mass-produced business computer, is rescued

  |  Published: Oct 15th 2013

One of the first mass-produced business computers has been rescued from the scrapheap for the third time in its 50-year history. The ICT 1301, also known as Flossie, has just arrived for storage at The National Museum of Computing where plans are being made to bring it back to life and put it on display when space permits.

The huge machine, weighing 5.5 tons and with a footprint of about 6 metres by 7 metres, arrived in three container lorries at TNMOC's new storage facility in Milton Keynes.

Built in 1962 by the company that was to become ICT (International Computers and Tabulators), Flossie was the first of more than 150 ICT 1301s that were delivered for use in commercial and public organisations. In Senate House at the University of London it was used for general accounting, administration, and for the production something that may be in the personal files of many 60-somethings: GCE examination results for candidates in England and Wales.

Kevin Murrell, TNMOC Trustee, explained the place of the machine in the history of computing: "The ICT 1301 marks a transition from simply knowing how to build computers, to being able to install one in almost any office without needing special facilities. It had a fixed layout and all it required was enough space and reasonable air-conditioning, whereas earlier computers required special features such as false floors for cabling.

"The ICT 1301 was ready for work! It transformed data processing in many businesses and used punched cards, magnetic tape reels and built-in printers." 

Rod Brown, custodian of Flossie for the past decade, said: "Flossie has had an extraordinary life -- or more precisely four lives. After it was decommissioned at the University of London in about 1972, it was purchased at scrap metal prices by a group of students who ran an accounting bureau for about five years. They then advertised it in Amateur Computer Club Magazine and it was bought -- again at scrap metal value. After languishing for a period in a barn in Kent, it was restored with the help of the Computer Conservation Society. Visitors could then come and see, smell, and feel the vibrations of a remarkable 1960's computer.

"Last year, Flossie was again at risk of being scrapped, but thanks to The National Museum of Computing the machine is safe again. The team and I are delighted with this news -- especially because TNMOC has such an outstanding track record of restoring computers and maintaining them in full working order. We look forward to the day that it can go back on display."

The ICT 1301s were used by a wide range of companies and organisations including insurance companies, Selfridges, and the Milk Marketing Board. Most were superseded in the 1970s by machines such as the ICL 1900 mainframes.

Thanks to their stunning design, some ICT 1301s took on another role in the 1970s and 1980s. They will be familiar to many film buffs, having appeared in the James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun, Blake's 7, The Pink Panther, and Doctor Who.

Only three other ICT 1301s are known to exist today, but Flossie is the only one ever likely to work again.

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