Show off your legacy tech -- give it to a museum

Museums and other institutions are searching for examples of older technology to exhibit. Is there a computer in your basement that qualifies? We tell you who's looking and what they're looking for.

Museums are looking for legacy tech

If you think that nobody wants the old computers or peripherals that you once worked or played on -- or perhaps help build and design -- think again: There may be some museum that could use them.

For example, earlier this year, <i>Computerworld</i> editor Barbara Krasnoff donated her circa-1992 Gateway Handbook to the Computer History Museum in Seattle.  

What's in it for you? Some museums may cover shipping, offer a tax deduction and/or credit the donor on an exhibit's label. If nothing else, you've decluttered a little -- and you have the satisfaction of having done right by your once-prized possession.

Here's a quick look at some of the technology-collecting museums in the United States that might give your old prized techno-treasure(s) a good home.

Credit: Courtesy of David Alan Grier
Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

The Computers and Mathematics Collections in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, Washington D.C., are international in scope, with a focus on objects made and used in the United States. The collections have roughly 10,000 objects, along with a similar number of documents.

"Objects range in age from a 925-year-old astrolabe to iPods, and in size from microprocessors to substantial portions of early room size computers such as the ASCC Mark I and the ENIAC," says Peggy Kidwell, the collections' curator. "We are looking for certain laptop and handheld computers with a well-documented history, and specific objects to fill gaps in such areas as electronic calculators, planimeters and historically important software."

How to donate: Contact the Office of Curatorial Affairs.

Computer History Museum

Originally housed in Boston, MA and now in Mountain View, CA, the Computer History Museum has over 100,000 objects, from the abacus to the iPhone -- plus "over a mile of documentation, including ephemera from computer conferences and trade shows," says Dag Spicer, senior curator at the museum. The museum focuses on items that have historical significance or represent a major tech breakthrough. "And we also collect products that didn't succeed, whether from marketing or technical reasons."

How to donate: The museum posts its wish list -- along with a partial list of "Items No Longer Accepted" --on its site, along with an FAQ.

Credit: Eric Roth
MIT Museum

Located in Cambridge, MA, the MIT Museum has over a million items overall, including rare books, photos, drawings, films and artifacts.

In terms of the museum's Science &Technology collection, says Deborah Douglas, the collection's curator, "The goal for me is to think about artifacts that effectively communicate the history of science and technology in the nineteenth through twenty-first centuries through the lens of MIT. We have bits of the Whirlwind computer, the first digital computer built at MIT, DEC computers that were part of Project Athena, and parts of the Apollo Guidance Computer including printouts of the software that guided Apollo 11 to the moon and back. We are not a comprehensive computer museum however. Rather, we look to document and preserve technology items and stories that have a connection to MIT."

On her wish list: Computers and software used to sequence the human genome at the Whitehead Institute.

How to donate: Send an email with a short description of the object, a photo or two and your contact information.

American Computer & Robotics Museum

The American Computer & Robotics Museum in Bozeman, MT has a wide range of computer, robotics and other electrical/electronic devices, including an Apple 1 Computer donated by Steve Wozniak; a reconstruction of the Greek Antikytheramechanism; a PDP-8; early PCs like the Altair, IMSAI, Osborne, TRS-80, SOL and Kaypro; and a complete 1956 Burroughs 205 vacuum tube computer. Roughly 1,000 of the museum's 10,000-item collection are on display.

"We're looking for prototype personal computers from the 1970s and any vacuum tube computers and/or components," says museum director George Keremedjiev.

Due to space and logistical constraints, the museum is very selective in accepting donations.

How to donate: The museum has a donations page.

Credit: Lisa Worley, Goodwill Computer Museum, Goodwill Industries of Central Texas, Inc.
Goodwill Computer Museum

Goodwill Industries of Central Texas' Goodwill Computer Museum in Austin, TX, began during the mid-1990's, as "cool vintage items kept showing up in the Goodwill donation stream," says Lisa Worley, the museum's curator. Its goal: "To collect and exhibit objects and stories of the information age as a significant link to generating lifelong connections to work."

The museum currently has around 8,000 items, although the exhibit gallery typically shows only about 75. The museum focuses on computer and video gaming equipment, assistive technology, software and documentation. "Our largest item is a Cray J916," says Worley. "On the smaller side, we have a Ms. PacMan arcade game, Ergo Audreys, and a number of TRS-80s."

How to donate: There's information on the site.

20th Century Technology Museum

Located in Wharton, TX, the 20th Century Technology Museum showcases "Historical Technology from a Century of Marvels" -- including, according to the museum's website, "a timeline of home computers starting from the 1970s, including a TRS-80, Compaq Portable, and various TI machines, up to the Apple iMac."

According to Art Schulze, chairman of the board of directors, the collection has over 2,000 objects, of which about half are on display. Non-computer items include an extensive radio and vacuum tube collection, and a homemade full-size ornithopter from the 1930s.

How to donate:The museum has not published a wish list, but, says Schulze, "will consider donations that will complement the items on display."

InfoAge Science / History Learning Center and Museum

The InfoAge Science/History Learning Center and Museum in Wall, NJ, is dedicated to teaching history and science via the collection, restoration, and exhibition of artifacts, in addition to hosting the Vintage Computer Festival East, according to Evan Koblentz, computer historian at the Center. The current collection size is in the thousands, with about 50 to 100 items on display at any given time, says Koblentz.

The Center is currently focusing on gear from the 1940s through 1980s. "We have a vast collection of 8-bit microcomputers, S100 'homebrew' systems and assorted minicomputers," says Koblentz. "Our largest item is a UNIVAC 1219B mainframe, circa 1965."

How to donate: According to Koblentz, "We're always interested in uncommon examples, home-built systems from the kit era and interesting Big Iron. We're also always open to expanding our library (books, documentation, magazines, etc.)." Contact Koblentz if you've got something.

Digital Den

Digital Den, in Cambridge, MA, is a relatively new tech collecting organization, having started up in early 2013. Founder Mary E. Hopper says, "Our purpose is collecting, preserving and exhibiting a wide range of computing systems -- primarily personal computers -- in their original 'living' state for the public to experience and enjoy first-hand. There is a special emphasis on computing in the New England area."

As of September 2013, Digital Den had already accumulated about 1,000 items, estimates Hopper, all of which about are on display. "We have machines from Apple, IBM, TI, Toshiba, Sony, and others," she says.

How to donate:Digital Den's Wish List includes things like a Xerox Star 8010 "Dandelion," a Nintendo Power Glove and a Sun Workstation with HyperNews.

Living Computer Museum

The Living Computer Museum in Seattle, WA, displays computing milestones, based on a collection from Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen "as a way to preserve the history that put him and Bill Gates on the path to founding the company," according to the website.

Where possible, vintage machines have been restored to working condition so visitors can try them. And (reasonably enough) there's a Microsoft exhibit area.

How to donate:The museum's wish list includes a variety of mainframes, minis, micros and sundries, including a Burroughs 5000, Prime 750 and a Cromemco microcomputer.

Daniel P. Dern is a Boston-based freelance technology and business writer who has a (cough) few tech treasures of his own to outplace, including a ProLinear AA-battery-powered DOS handheld, an HP OmniBook 300,copies of year 1 of Internet World magazine, and a short stack of BYTE.com pocket protectors. He has no plans to start his own museum.