As a custodian of the past, the New-York Historical Society’s Stephen Edidin would like to make one thing very clear about modern technology: Computers didn’t start with Steve Jobs.
The dominance of Apple makes it difficult to get out of its shadow but that’s the goal of Silicon City, the Historical Society's new exhibit about computing's New York roots opening this Friday, sponsored by AT&T. From the "Victorian Internet" of phonographs to IBM’s blockbuster 1964 World’s Fair exhibit that humanized machines, the digital age was set in motion and nurtured on the East Coast long before it retreated into the northern California valley.
“You learn history first and then you innovate, and we hope the show will help in that way,” Edidin says.
As for the future, IBM — which produced the first portable computer in 1975 — is back in the spotlight, having moved its corporate headquarters to 51 Astor Place last year and looking to get back at the forefront of the field with its Watson artificial intelligence project. Edidin also points to NYC-based Etsy and the 3-D printing company Shapeways as the new phase of the city’s tech future.
Here’s a preview of the history of computing, BSJ — Before Steve Jobs.