This month marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of W.W. Chandler. In this edition of Pioneers in Tech, we will look into his impact on technology. Chandler was responsible for installation and maintenance of the World War II-era code-breaking computer Colossus. Although lesser known than Alan Turing’s Bombe, which cracked the German Enigma code, Colossus was used at Britain’s Bletchley Park to crack codes used by the German High Command—and played an equally important role in shortening the length of WWII and saving thousands of lives.
Born Dec. 1, 1913, in Bridport, England, Chandler earned his bachelor’s degree from London University in 1938 while he worked at the British Post Office Research Department. At Bletchley Park, he was part of the team working on the Colossus, the first digital, programmable and electric computer. (The ENIAC long held that title, but that’s because the Colossus had not yet been declassified. Admittedly, the ENIAC was a general-purpose machine, unlike Colossus.) The Colossus cracked codes created by the German Lorenz cipher machine.
The legacy of Colossus
The first Colossus was installed at Bletchley Park on Jan. 18, 1944, and was able to break a cipher on Feb. 5, 1944. By the end of the war, 10 of the computers had been installed at Bletchley, with the second version—the Colossus Mark II—installed only five days before D-Day but still playing a pivotal role in the Allies’ success. The 10 Colossus computers decrypted 63 million characters by the end of WWII.
In 1992, Tony Sale, who went on to co-found the National Museum of Computing in the UK, began a project to rebuild the Colossus. Today visitors can visit Block H at Bletchley Park—the original site of the Colossus 9—to view the rebuild and ponder the impact of Chandler and his colleagues on humankind.
Chandler passed away Sept. 11, 1989, after spending the rest of his career working on the MOSAIC computer and optical character recognition.
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