The Lenin Museum. Photo credit: Yuri Litvinenko / Creative Commons
Apple computers can be found all over the world, and many end up in unusual places. But perhaps the weirdest place of all, the Apple II powers the Keystone exhibit at Russia's Lenin Museum, 20 miles south of Moscow.
Still open today, the museum opened in 1987 in the last years of the USSR and is dedicated to the country's first leader, Vladimir Lenin. His exhibits include a series of moving three-dimensional presentations, each depicting a time from Lenin's life.
As early as 1987, the employees of the Soviet Museum needed a way to control these presentations, which required the synchronization of lights, projectors and motors to the second. At the time, a British company called Electrosonic had developed a system called the ES4000 that was helping technicians do just that. The computer that supplies power to the ES4000 system? The Apple II.
There was one problem, however: Soviet law forbade the museum from dealing with foreign companies, which meant it couldn't import the ES4000 and Apple II directly. The Soviets had their own Apple II clone, the Agat-7, but a separate card was required to run Western software. The ES4000 used 50-pin cards that would not fit into the 60-pin slots on the Agat-7.
Instead, a tortuous arrangement was made to circumvent Soviet regulations. A Soviet economic organization, Technointorg, signed the agreement and implemented it through Beach Compix, a British front of the Soviet Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Foreign technicians traveled to the USSR to set up the system, but a Soviet company, Cascade, paid tribute to their work. That was the end of the workaround.
Amazingly, the Apple II computers that are the focus of the exhibit are still going strong today. According to the museum's deputy research director Boris Vlasov, it is up to the original staff to come out of retirement and repair the machines if necessary. Vlasov insists that the computers not be replaced in order to keep the original technological structure of the presentations, exactly as they were originally intended.
And despite the seeming rarity of this setup, it wasn't the only time Apple technology has made an appearance in the USSR. Steve Jobs himself even attended the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union in 1985 to provide Macintosh to the Soviet schools (apparently a sloppy remark he made about Leon Trotsky, who was still a touchy subject in the USSR at the time, sunk the plan ). . Macs popped up here and there, like the regional tax office of Bashkortostan, a Russian republic, but otherwise it failed to advance any further.
It is all the more remarkable that Apple computers were chosen to run the museum dedicated to the country's first leader – and that they are still going strong today, almost 35 years later.