When Earl Schweppe was asked if he wanted to salvage a few pieces from an Illiac II super computer from the 1960s, he had no clue his decision would turn him into an antique computer magnet.
“I do not call myself a collector because I do not go out looking for computer parts,” Schweppe said. “Instead, I think I like to call it dumb luck because the parts cross my path one way or another.”
Dumb luck seemed to linger around Schweppe’s life long before he salvaged his first old computer part.
Schweppe was on a blind date, set up by a close friend of his, and had no indication his date would turn out to be his wife.
“I can credit my wife to dumb luck, too, and for the all of the parts that have fallen into my possession over the years,” Schweppe said.
Schweppe, 85, is a retired KU Computer Science professor.
“I religiously started studying computers during seminars in 1950 at the University of Illinois,” he said.
Schweppe’s passion for computers would land him at KU in 1968 and the foundation of the Computer Science program.
He would teach at KU for 32 years, but his 2000 retirement would not stop computer parts from finding him.
“I began to have a reputation, and I would receive phone calls from time to time from various people asking me if I wanted to salvage some spare parts before they threw them away,” Schweppe said.
The parts started finding Schweppe in 1974, and over the years he has accumulated a stockpile. Some of the pieces are on display at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt., until July 30.
The exhibit consists of various pieces of computer equipment from the 1950s, but Schweppe’s favorite is a old cathode ray tube.
“The CRT was the top of line for memory storage in 1950. It’s really important for people to see how far technology has come,” Schweppe said.
More than a few library visitors have grown curious over the exhibit and understand the importance of ancient technology.
“Dr. Schweppe’s exhibit has gotten more questions than a usual exhibit would get,” said Rachel Smalter Hall, adult programs librarian.
She added people of all ages will come by and ask her about the exhibit, and she thinks the display “has been a great aspect for our community.”
Schweppe and his wife have been friends of the library for 30 years, and had been talking with library director Bruce Flanders for three years about a public exhibit.
Schweppe hopes to find his collection a permanent home.
“I am meeting with some people to discuss building plans on the new library,” he said. “I hope they can find a way to put the collection to good use.”
He added that if he found a museum or a place for “others to appreciate the early computer technology,” he would gladly donate the items.
Schweppe hopes that Lawrence will one day build a computer science and mathematics center for all ages.
“We need a place where people can go and learn about computers so they can truly appreciate how far we’ve come in the last 50 years,” Schweppe said.