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Tom Kilburn

2000 Fellow

For his contributions to early computer design including random access digital storage, virtual memory and multiprograming.

We just got on with our work, day by day, and enjoyed what we were doing. The University gave us the freedom to get on with it. —Tom Kilburn


Biography

Tom Kilburn (standing) at Ferranti Mark I computer, ca. 1950
Tom Kilburn (standing) at Ferranti Mark I computer, ca. 1950

Tom Kilburn was born in Dewsbury, England, in 1921. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Manchester (1948).

Kilburn's early work with Frederic Williams at the University of Manchester in 1947 concentrated on the digital storage of information on a cathode-ray tube and resulted in the first random access electronic storage device for computers, the Williams-Kilburn Tube.

To test it, in 1948 Kilburn led the work on designing and building "the Baby," a small-scale experimental computer. The Baby was the first stored-program computer-the first computer in the world that could hold both user program and data in electronic storage and process it at electronic speeds.

In the early 1950s, Kilburn led the development of two new pioneering computers that were turned into commercial machines by U.K. manufacturers.

Kilburn then led the development of the Atlas computer system, which pioneered such modern concepts as paging, virtual memory, and multiprogramming, influencing the development of computer systems for generations. In 1962, it was considered the most powerful computer in the world.

Tom Kilburn was professor of computer engineering (1960), then computer science (1964) at the University Manchester, retiring in 1981. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society. He passed away in 2001.