The 1954 RAND Home Computer

An Internet Hoax
(but a funny one!)


Rand 1954 Home Computer


This photo's caption reads:

Scientists from the RAND Corporation have created this model to illustrate how a "home computer" could look like in the year 2004. However the needed technology will not be economically feasible for the average home. Also the scientists admit that the computer will require not yet invented technology to actually work, but 50 years from now scientific progress is expected to solve these problems. With teletype interface and the Fortran language, the computer will be easy to use.

While this photo gave me a good yuk and went right onto your Ominous Valve Works, I had my doubts:

  • The TTY machine shown is more modern than those made in 1954.
  • The TTY seems to be missing a number of critical parts, and the paper enters too far forward.
  • All the gauges are analog indicators. The hot FORTRAN setup in 1954 was the IBM 704, a digital computer based on the older Whirlwind design, which looked exactly the way one would expect old mainframes to look.
  • Surely they had better user interfaces than a steering wheel. The Air Force was already using radar screens with a user-operated light gun that would bring up information on selected radar targets - a point and click GUI by any standards.

Then a recent e-mail informed me that we were looking at a control panel to a 1960s era nuclear submarine, and that it had once been top secret, and that I had given the writer a major flashback. A Google search instantly turned up proof that, indeed, "the 1954 RAND Home Computer" came from a sub, was never a computer at all, and thus is yet another net hoax. Had ME going.....

Check out the Snopes page to read the VERY funny story of the hoax's origin, and see the original photo from an exhibit in the Smithsonian, minus TTY, minus monochrome TV, and minus funny man in suit.