George Keremedjiev, 66, founder of the American Computer & Robotics Museum, the world’s oldest continuously operating computer museum, died Saturday in Missoula, Montana, of heart surgery. Well regarded in museum and technological circles, the museum is also a little-known historical gem.
Revered as much for his kindness, his passion for technology, and his commitment to educating others about the history of computing, Keremedjiev told KBZK-TV in Bozeman, Mont., That he and his wife Barbara Keremedjiev founded the Little-known non-profit museum in the agricultural university town. de Bozeman in 1990 because they had collected storage units full of various calculators and other technological items.
“When we lived in Princeton, New Jersey I started collecting these various adding machines, slide rules and realized that I finally took control of the attic and storage areas, âsaid Keremedjiev, who has automated manufacturing companies around the world, to KBZK in a video interview. “We were gonna put a museum in Princeton.”
But the Keremedjievs were busy raising a young family and moved from Princeton, NJ, to Doylestown, Pa., Then finally to Bozeman after researching the western states. Bozeman, now considered a tech town as much as a cowboy town because of Montana State University, seemed to match their sensibilities.
âI realized that there was a lot of tourism here,â Keremedjiev said. âWhy wouldn’t they want to know the history of technology? People would say, âWhy Bozeman? And we would always say, “Why not? We have the same cutting edge technology here as in Denver.” So the high-tech museum made sense. “
USA Today named the museum one of the top 10 free museums in the United States for 2016. The Keremedjievs have helped keep the low-budget, low-cost, minimal-staff operation open at 2023 Stadium Drive each year. Donations poured in from California, Michigan, across the country, and a Twitter account raised even more money to keep the museum afloat.
âThe first 20 years we focused on collecting artifactsâ¦ donating them,â Keremedjiev added. âAnd for the last 10+ years, we’ve focused on displays and making sure displays are relevant for those who are tech-savvy and for those who aren’t. “
Colleagues and admirers have been hit hard by the news of Keremedjiev’s loss, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported:
“This is pretty shocking news,” John Paxton, professor of computer science and principal of the Gianforte School of Computing at Montana State University said Monday. He knew Keremedjiev for almost 30 years.
âHe was a very enthusiastic, kind and caring person who, in addition to his daily work as a consultant, had this passion,â said Paxton.
Keremedjiev was born in Caracas, Venezuela, to Russian parents displaced after World War II, the Daily Chronicle reported. He and his family settled in Paterson, NJ, where he learned to speak English and graduated as a valedictorian. He graduated in music from Rutgers, worked in manufacturing, and founded Tecknow Education Services in 1986.
He worked closely with MSU students, brought in experts, and was instrumental in creating museum studies courses. The university awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2009.
The museum exhibits around six percent of several thousand artifacts, including communications items such as clay tablets, a Guttenberg printing press replica, a NASA Apollo Moon computer, an old Apple I computer, robots, artificial intelligence, according to the Chronicle.
Keremedjiev seemed particularly proud of an exhibition highlighting over 200 years of women in IT.
âWe have chosen three icons to represent these 200 years: Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson,â said Keremedjiev. “The room is meant to inspire young girls especially to pursue careers in STEM. For them, stepping in and seeing that women have always been in IT in recent memory – and for 200 years – can only strengthen their dreams possible. Maybe they think it’s an impossible goal, then they walk in here and realize, ‘No, women have been in IT for a long time.’ “
He reveled in the surprise of visitors during visits. He said he had âa sense of urgencyâ to help young people understand where the technologies came from.
âThe concept of a computer museum is foreign to most visitors around the world. They are shocked at how much they relate to what is here and to their own personal experience. It could be a young person or someone with decades of computer science. or not at all. They are just amazed at how easy it is to understand all of this, âsaid Keremedjiev.
The museum’s website has published a notice stating that it will close for the remainder of 2018.