Tom Kilburn

Tom Kilburn

Infobox Engineer

image_width = 150px
caption = PAGENAME
nationality = English
birth_date = August 11, 1921
birth_place = Dewsbury, Yorkshire
death_date = January 17, 2001
death_place = Manchester
education =
spouse =
parents =
children =
discipline =
institutions = University of Manchester
practice_name =
significant_projects = Manchester Mark I
significant_design =
significant_advance =
significant_awards =

Tom Kilburn (August 11, 1921 - January 17, 2001) was an English engineer. With Freddie Williams he worked on the Williams Tube and the first stored-program computer in the world, the Manchester Mark I, while working at the University of Manchester.

Computer engineering

Kilburn was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire and graduated in mathematics from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, pursuing a course compressed to two years following the outbreak of World War II. On graduation, he was recruited by C.P. Snow for unspecified secret work and found himself on a crash course in electronics before being posted to the Telecommunications Research Establishment in Malvern to work on Radar under F.C. Williams. In 1943 he married Irene Marsden and the couple went on to raise a son and a daughter.

Kilburn's wartime work inspired his enthusiasm for some form of electronic computer. The principal technical barrier to such a development at that time was the lack of any practical means of storage for data and instructions. Kilburn and Williams collaboratively developed a storage device based on a cathode ray tube and capable of storing a single bit. A patent was filed in 1946.

In December 1946, Williams took up the chair of electrotechnics at Manchester and recruited Kilburn on secondment from Malvern. The two developed their storage technology and, in 1948, Kilburn put it to a practical test in constructing the Small-Scale Experimental Machine which became the first stored-program computer to run a program, on June 21, 1948.

Kilburn received the degree of Ph.D. for his work at Manchester and had then anticipated a return to Malvern. However, Williams persuaded him to stay to work on the University's collaborative project developing the Ferranti Mark I, the world's first commercial computer. Over the next three decades, Kilburn led the development of a succession of innovative Manchester computers including Atlas and MU5.


During his career at the University of Manchester, Kilburn was instrumental in forming the Department of Computer Science in 1964, becoming the first head of the department, and served as Dean of the Faculty of Science (1970-1972) and pro-vice-chancellor of the university (1976-1979). He retired in 1981.


Kilburn habitually holidayed with his family in Blackpool but was always back in time for Manchester United F.C.'s first match of the football season.

He died in Manchester of pneumonia following abdominal surgery.


*Fellow of the Royal Society, (1965)
*CBE, (1973)
*Royal Medal of the Royal Society, (1978)
* The Computer Science building at Manchester University is named "The Kilburn Building".

External links

* [ Tom Kilburn Biography (1921-2001)]
* [ Tom Kilburn Obituary:Independent]

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