By Greg Bates
When the Computer Museum of America opens next year (2018), visitors will be able to step back in time to the start of the technological era.
Exhibit owner Lonnie Mimms has amassed quite an extensive collection of computers. In addition, his acquisitions include calculators, cameras, robots and a variety of other technological devices. It’s always been Mimms’ goal to open a full-scale museum. Now, he’ll be able to do that in his own backyard in Roswell, Ga., which is just north of Atlanta.
Region Perfect Fit for Computer Museum
“We’re really in the center of the tech area,” Mimms said. “The tech area of Atlanta is located from Sandy Springs up to Alpharetta, and Roswell is in between. There are about 1,000 tech companies around us.”
The 54-year-old – who also runs an Apple Pop-Up Museum in Roswell, which highlights Apple’s company from its beginning – is excited for the Computer Museum of America to get up and running.
“It’s going to be amazing,” according to Mimms. “There’s so many balls up in the air right now, it’s so hard to digest it all.”
Mimms has been actively going out and purchasing computer items for his collection for over 20 years. But it was at a young age when the introduction took place.
Lifelong Interest Leads to Action
“I’ve been passionate about technology since I was a little kid – before the PC or the microprocessor was invented,” Mimms said. “We used time sharing systems with a local university and that got me hooked. Once the personal computer came out, I convinced the family that we needed one in the family business, and I was still in grade school at the time. We bought one of those and it was a processor technology Sol-20 computer. I still have that one and it still works. It just kind of went from there and I never got rid of anything.”
Mimms – who is a third-generation businessman, dealing in commercial and industrial real estate – is in the process of having his museum move from a temporary site to a permanent location. There isn’t a firm date set for opening, but Mimms is looking at spring 2018, before the museum serves as the site of the sixth annual Vintage Computer Festival Southeast event.
Consequently, the Computer Museum of America will add quite a bit of space and jump up to 110,000 square feet. Mimms, who owns many properties in the family business, will use an existing building for his museum.
Technological Artifacts Top 250,000
All the items on display will be from Mimms’ personal collection. He figures he owns about 250,000
“To display that many artifacts properly with the right setting, you’d need a million square feet,” Mimms said. “You want to keep it alive, so we’ll have new exhibits every 12-18 months.”
Depending on the theme of each exhibit, Mimms plans to determine which artifacts will be prominently visible to the public. Mimms will pick and choose what items to display and how to display them.
“I think he’s really going to have displays that are of interest,” said Craig Solomonson, who sold Mimms his collection. “It’s not just going to be here, there’s a whole shelf full of these things and a shelf full of those things, it’s going to have themes to it.”
One exhibit already taking shape in Mimms’ mind features Cray supercomputers. He has over 20 of the models, including a Cray IA and possibly the only Cray-4 boards in existence.
In addition, Mimms also owns a number of early microcomputers. His Scelbi collection is impressive, with both founders’ machines along with the first prototype Scelbi CPU board.
Mimms, who knows many of the early Apple employees, is in possession of five of the 66 Apple I’s existing in the world. Also, he has 30 Apple prototypes of different kinds, starting with the Apple II up to fairly recent models.
Therefore, to help round out his personal collection, Mimms has purchased entire collections of some of the nation’s large computer collectors, including Solomonson and David Larsen from Floyd, Va. Last summer, Solomonson drove to Georgia on a couple occasions to deliver his collection – around 2,500 pieces – to Mimms. (Learn more about Solomonson's own collecting interest>>>)
“His collection includes very early Intel machines, focusing on the 8008 processor, which is a very cool thing,” states Mimms. “Speaking to somebody that’s in the range of 30 plus or minus years old, and one of the most significant programs of their youth is the Oregon Trail. So having the machine that MECC (Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium) used to create Oregon Trail and early versions of the software and things like that, that’s a whole exhibit and storyline unto itself and has a lot of significance and relevance. A lot of people can probably credit that program for getting them into becoming part of the technology and computer world.”
Furthermore, Solomonson believes his collection will be a nice addition to the Computer Museum of America.
“It’s going to give him a very unique piece. It’s giving him one of the earliest Altair’s, and he’s really big into Altair’s,” states Solomonson. “He didn’t have a Macintosh Picasso light, now he’s got one.”
Furthermore, Mimms has received feedback and interest from a lot of collectors and workers in the industry who are looking forward to the unveiling of the Computer Museum of America.
“At this point, among the people we’ve touched base with there’s incredible excitement,” Mimms said. “Unlike a lot of the museums, we’re not going in cherry-picking. We’ve taken the entire Solomonson collection. We’ve taken the entire Larsen collection. The entire Alex’s Apple Orchard in Maine. The entire Maine computer collection.
"Most of all, any one of these collections has a dozen pieces of Smithsonian quality. What happens to the other 10,000 pieces in the collection? We’re going to be a home for the whole story, not just for select pieces.”