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Tommy Flowers

From Academic Kids

Thomas (Tommy) Harold Flowers MBE (22 December 190528 October 1998) was a British engineer who designed Colossus, the first digital, programmable, electronic computer. Several Colossus machines were used during World War II in British efforts to read messages encrypted using the German Lorenz SZ 40/42 cipher machine.

Flowers was born in London and, after an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering, he earned a degree in Electrical engineering at the University of London before joining the telecommunications branch of the General Post Office (GPO) in 1926, moving to work at their research station at Dollis Hill in 1930.

During the War, Flowers was asked to join the codebreaking efforts at Bletchley Park, and it was he who proposed solving the problems of the Heath Robinson machine by using an electronic system using valves. Despite the rejection of the idea initially because valves were seen as too unreliable, and subsequently because it was expected that the war would be over before the idea could be implemented, in 1943 he went ahead without authorisation, even part funding the development himself. Pushing the technology to its limit, Flowers cranked up the speed of the first Colossus machine to nearly double "to see how fast it would go".

Flowers received recognition after the war in the shape of a 1,000 lump sum, and the award of an MBE.

After the war, Flowers returned to the GPO but, unable to tell them of his wartime achievements, was unsuccessful in his attempts to get the organisation to develop the electronic telephone exchange.

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