Tom Kilburn

1983 Eckert-Mauchly Award Recipient

Tom Kilburn


Professor Emeritus Tom Kilburn FRS was born on August 11th 1921. He was born and brought up in Dewsbury, Yorkshire. He died on January 17th 2001 in Manchester after twenty years of quiet retirement, in the city where he made such a great contribution to the first 25 years of computer development.

Tom Kilburn went early in the war to Cambridge University, where he read Mathematics. He joined the Air Corps at Cambridge, but knew that because he needed to wear glasses he would not be able to be a pilot when he was called up. But in his last year he attended a lecture by C.P. Snow at Cambridge to recruit graduates for unspecified key work for the war effort, so he signed up for that. On his call-up, after graduating with a 1st in 1942, he was ordered to take a City & Guilds crash course in electricity, magnetism and electronics in London, and then to report to the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) at Malvern, where he was assigned to Freddie Williams' group. In 1992 Tom reflected on his first meeting with his new boss and future collaborator:

    "I didn't know Freddie Williams until that day and in effect he said `Oh God, you don't know anything?' and I said, `No'. That was the sort of relationship at the start. But of course by the time we left Malvern - that was four years later - the relationship was quite different."

Freddie Williams led a small group that acted as think-tank and problem-solver for radar and other defence areas, for anything involving electronic circuits. The group occupied a single room in Malvern College's cricket pavilion, and Tom Kilburn picked up the required knowledge and expertise quickly. By the end of the four years he was running his own projects and had logged around 500 hours flying, typically taking experimental equipment to other sites and testing it in the air. In 1946 he spent a month in Canada.   Read more about Tom Kilburn.
Computing Now