- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

FLOYD, Va. (AP) - David Larsen, who taught electrical engineering for decades, began collecting electronics more than 40 years ago. The hobby eventually led to the creation of the Bugbook Historical Microcomputer Museum in the town.

After nearly eight years, Larsen closed his museum in early March and moved nearly all of his collection to the Computer Museum of America in the Atlanta suburb of Roswell.

Larsen had a few reasons for the move.

“What would I do with the collection when I’m gone?” He said. “The natural thing to do was to pass it on to somebody who could manage it.”

Larsen said his collection would also probably get a little more visibility in the Atlanta area than rural Floyd.

Through trade shows and flea markets, the Floyd man found anything from the first electronic calculators and amateur radio equipment to microprocessor kits and 1970s and ‘80s-era microcomputers that planted the roots for the home computers and mobile devices that would arrive later.

While Apple was among the few that tasted major success then, many companies during the 1970s built microcomputers that never survived the market, Larsen said.

“We had many of the first microcomputers,” he said.

Among Larsen’s prized antiques were an Altair 8800 and four original Apple 1 computers.

Hand-built by now well-known technology figure Steve Wozniak, the Apple 1 essentially launched the global electronics giant.

Perhaps lesser known to the general public than the Apple 1, the Altair 8800 is the 1970s-era computer that put Microsoft on the map. A different company built the computer itself, but Bill Gates and Paul Allen provided a program for the device.

It was a deal with IBM in the following decade that helped propel Microsoft to its current scale, but Larsen said the Altair 8800 is nonetheless a nugget in the development of one of the most prominent technology companies in the world.

The former Floyd museum displayed 350 items, which was just a tiny fraction of Larsen’s entire collection. He said he kept a total of roughly 10,000 items while tons of electronics memorabilia were sent to Georgia.

Among the items he never put on display were the four Apple 1 computers. The Apple 1 inside the museum was a clone, or a device built to look and function like the computer.

Larsen kept his real Apple 1’s in a vault and ended up sending two of the computers to Georgia. He said there are only about 50 Apple 1 computers still in existence today.

The Computer Museum of America, located inside a former CompUSA store, is primarily comprised of an Apple exhibit and another exhibit displaying a more general history of the personal computer and other consumer electronics.

“He had an awesome, awesome collection,” said Computer Museum of America founder Lonnie Mimms of Larsen. “Very seldom do you come across such a complete collection of vintage microcomputers.”

Currently not open to regular public visits, the Computer Museum has plans beginning in June to open the exhibits to visitors on the second and fourth Saturday of every month.

Mimms said plans also call for a move to much larger facility in the Atlanta area that will not only house the exhibits, but provide a maker space for aspiring innovators.

“There’s an evolution to all this technology that almost appears magical,” he said. “We think of the museum as an inspirational place where young folks and innovators get ideas for creating the next new product.

“There were a lot of things made in the past that didn’t quite take off because the technology wasn’t all there. The infrastructure wasn’t all there. There are multiple reasons why it didn’t succeed. But it’s very possible a lot of these things were brought back to life in a new form.”

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Information from: The Roanoke Times, http://www.roanoke.com

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