Early History of Computing in Turku, 1959-1964


Aimo Törn


On December 1, 2000, forty years have passed since the first registered computer run was made in Turku, a city in the South-West corner of Finland. The computer, a Wegematic 1000 was donated by Axel Leonard Wenner-Gren, a Swedish businessman active in many areas. The donation letter from Wenner-Gren Center, dated Jan 19, 1960 stated that the donation to the University of Turku and the Foundation for Åbo Akademi, comprising an automatic computer Wegematic 1000, was "for promoting research and teaching within applied mathematics and within this field strengthen the contacts between the universities and the business world".

For managing the computer the Research Foundation for Applied Mathematics and Computation was created, and under it the Turku Computing Center for the daily operation. Even if the Computing Center have ceased existing long time ago, the Foundation has been kept alive for possible future needs.

Wegematic 1000, the first university computer of any practical importance in Finland (ESKO at Helsinki University was the first installed), was an electronic tube machine. Its prime memory consisted of 4 tracks (out of 260) on a drum each consisting of 32 (32 bits + sign) directly accessible words. Paper tape was used for input (150 char/s) and output (50 char/s), and also cards. An addition took 1 ms, a multiplication 16 ms, and fetch times for data and instructions in prime memory were 4 ms and 2 ms respectively. The energy consumption was 15 kW.

For today's computer programmers it might be hard to understand that anything practical could be achieved with such diminutive resources. However, programming was made in machine code with fixed point arithmetic, inhibiting the need of space and time consuming systems software, which made it practical to solve problems even of considerable size. Computing times were rather in minutes than in ms, but compared to the alternative, hand computing using mechanical or electro mechanical calculators, the speedup was huge.

These pages are written to celebrate 40 years of computing in Turku and to honour all those, many if which are not explicitely mentioned, which were contributing to the first steps 1959-1964. Standing out is late Prof. K.V. Laurikainen, the initator and driving force in creating the computing center. A complementing exposition in Finnish is published in the journal of technical history, tekniikan Waiheita [Suominen, Paju and Törn 2000]