Few people have heard of it, yet many consider John Blankenbaker's KENBAK-1 to be the first commercial personal computer.

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The Tinkertoy Computer

Tinkertoy computer

This brilliant Tinkertoy digital computer was built by a team of students at MIT in the 1980s. It's a marvel of mechanical design that apparently plays a "mean game of tic-tac-toe." The idea was born in 1975, when two Sophomores worked on a class project to build something digital from Tinkertoys.  It took another few years before they collaborated over the phone to design a working machine for the Mid-America Science Museum:

"A Tinkertoy framework called the read head clicks and clacks its way down the front of the monolith At some point the clicking mysteriously stops; a "core piece" within the framework spins and then with a satisfying "'kathunk' indirectly kicks an 'output duck,' a bird-shaped construction. The output duck swings down from its perch so that its beak points at a number- which identifies the computer's next move in a game of tic-tac-toe."

The Tinkertoy Computer is now on display at the Museum of Science in Boston, where it will undoubtedly inspire legions of future Tinkertoy scientists. Here's a link to a behind-the-scenes article from the October 1989 issue of Scientific American.

A Tinkertoy computer that plays tic-tac-toe

Build Your Own Digicomp Mechanical Computer


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