Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci

Milan, Italy | C.1953

Photo Credit: Matthew Piotrowski


The Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci is the largest science and technology museum in Italy. Dedicated to the Italian painter and scientist Leonardo de Vinci, the museum contains seven exhibit departments, with one containing the first commercial transistor computer designed & manufactured in Italy.

The Elea 9003 was developed by manufacturer Olivetti, and is one of a series of mainframe computers produced in the late 1950s. Conceived by a team of researchers, the computer is made entirely of transistors for high performance.

Mainframes like the Elea were primarily used by large organizations for bulk data processing as they typically contained more processing power than personal computers. The Elea’s computing power was approximately 8,000 to 10,000 instructions per second – a top performer for many years. For context, an iPhone 6 can run 3.36 Billion instructions per second.

The acronym Elea originally stood for Elaboratore Elettronico Aritmetico (Arithmetical Electronic Computer) and was a reference to the ancient Greek colony of Elea, which was home to the Eleatic school of philosophy. This acronym was fitting, as the Elea 9003 was the third generation model, and used for arithmetic-based applications like payroll, inventory and accounting.

Following its release in 1959, 40 Elea 9003 computers were leased to individual customers, including a textile company and a prominent Italian bank. Within five years, Olivetti’s mainframe electronics division was sold to General Electric, and the Elea 9003 unit was donated to the museum as a relic of an era in computing that was surpassed decades ago.

Written By: Accidentally Wes Anderson

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