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Manufacturer GPO
Production years 1957
Production location Dollis Hill

ERNIE 1 was the first machine to generate the winning numbers for Premium Bonds. ERNIE stands for electronic random number indicator equipment.

Before 1957, no-one knew how to create a machine that could rapidly generate random numbers for Premium Bonds. ERNIE 1 was technically ground-breaking, using an innovative hybrid of valves and transistors with printed circuit boards.

ERNIE caught the imagination of the British public. The machine was given human characteristics and the public sent ‘him’ cards and poems hoping that their Bond numbers would get picked.

This exhibition showcases ERNIE 1, and explores its development and popularity, its link to the first digital electronic computer - the code-breaking Colossus - and the role of random numbers in computing today.

How it works

ERNIE is a hardware random number generator. The first ERNIE was built at the Post Office Research Station by a team led by Sidney Broadhurst. The designer was Tommy Flowers. It was unveiled in 1957, generating its bond numbers based on the signal noise created by a bank of neon tubes.

My father, Richard Small, helped to build ERNIE at the research station Dollis Hill. I remembered as a child my father working overtime on it. My grandfather was the security officer in the gate house, I was taken on many a sunday morning to the station,where I played in the grounds. I also was taken down the Bunker Paddock. My father died in 1957 and never saw a Premium Bond. My father spoke of Tommy Flowers but only as another worker, there was another workmate known as Big Ed, it was only recently that watching a television program about Collossus, Tommy Flowers was mentioned and I put 2 and 2 together. ERNIE was probably put together with spare parts robbed from the other Collosi. My father's job was a laboratory technician, he went to work there after the war, he was in the signals regiment. Richard John Small.

In the Science Museum

ERNIE 1 is currently on display in the Computing gallery on the second floor of the Science Museum.

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