ERNIE at the Science Museum
ERNIE at the Science Museum
ERNIE on show.

Note: The ERNIE gallery closed on 1st September 2015 after more than seven years of being on show to the public.

Photo: ERNIE Mk 1 in the purpose-built display case at the Science Museum, London © LSA March 2010.
| EXIT | ERNIE at the Science Museum | ERNIE 1 Display | Launch of ERNIE 4 | Acknowledgements |

The Science Museum in South Kensington, London is a great draw for children and adults of all ages. Within its cavernous galleries there is an inspiring mix of both static and interactive displays, which are guaranteed to hold your interest throughout the day. Temporary exhibitions often capture the technological theme of the moment, while also offering a retrospective glance into history. In recent years the rapid advances in computing power have displaced older machines, making the topic a popular subject to explore more fully. Studies have revealed that developments such as Colossus* can be traced back to the Post Office research establishment of Dollis Hill. Thus it is not surprising to learn that the Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment (ERNIE), which generates Premium Bond numbers, was a product of the same team.

* Colossus was developed to break the coded messages which were generated by the German Lorenz SZ42 cipher machine, during the second world war.

Today, the power behind Premium Bonds is ERNIE 4, a chipset, which was produced by LogicalCMC and first used for a live draw in April 2004. In August of the same year, the Museum staged a one-day exhibition with a line-up of ERNIEs 1 to 4, spanning more than 40 years of number generating equipment. For this event, a small section of the massive ERNIE mark 1 (circa 1956) was brought out of long term storage. This was the first time that all versions of ERNIE were displayed at a single location.

When NS & I (National Savings and Investments), celebrated 50 years of Premium Bonds in June 2007, they were already working in conjunction with the Science Museum to put ERNIE mark 1 on permanent display. As I had previously been in contact with Dr. Tilly Blyth, Curator of Computing and Information, I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the preview of the opening on Thursday 26th June 2008.

ERNIE 1 Display
The wonderful display of ERNIE Mk 1.

Photo: ERNIE Mk 1 in the purpose-built display case at the Science Museum, London © LSA March 2010.

Launch of ERNIE 4 Display
All four ERNIE machines on display in 2004
All four versions of ERNIE were on display for the first time ever in 2004 at the launch of ERNIE 4.

Photo: ERNIE 3 is on the far left box, E4 on two boxes in foreground. E1 is behind them on right and E2 is in back left.(Courtesy NS & I)
ERNIE 2 on display.

Photo: ERNIE 2 (NS & I).
The launch event was hosted by science and mathematics personality, Johnny Ball, and attended by the engineers who designed and built ERNIE 1 almost 50 years ago, as well as those responsible for developing ERNIE 4, from LogicaCMG. The one day exhibition at the Science Museum was the first time that all four versions of ERNIE were on display together.

Photo: Johnny Ball at the Science Museum in 2004.

Disclaimer: These pages are an unofficial review of ERNIE and Premium Bonds. Photos copyright Light Straw Archives, as marked. Other photos and images used with kind permission of National Savings and Investments (NS & I). With thanks to the Science Museum, NS & I, and BT Heritage.

If you have a query about money or bonds held in National Savings, please visit the National Savings and Investments site.

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