WASHINGTON – Michael Dell never imagined his work would end up in a museum when he was sitting in his college dorm room in 1984, dreaming of building and selling his own personal computers.
Now, one of his original computers is going to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.
The 42-year-old chairman and chief executive of Texas-based Dell Inc. (DELL) donated a collection of materials Wednesday to the Smithsonian, including his employee badge, one of the company's newest computers and a PC Limited computer from 1985.
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The objects will join an Altair computer, a first-generation IBM PC and an original Apple Macintosh in the museum's collection.
"If we do our jobs right, I suspect that much of the technology developed right now in 2007 will be ready for the museum in another two or three years or so," said Dell, who dropped out of the University of Texas at Austin 23 years ago when his business took off.
Parts of the Dell collection will be temporarily displayed beginning Thursday at the museum's "Treasures of American History" exhibit housed at the National Air and Space Museum.
The American history museum, which is closed for a major renovation, will reopen in summer 2008 with new thematic exhibits.
A gallery focused on American enterprise and innovation is expected to open in 2011 and will include stories of how technology has driven the U.S. economy.
"When you think about it, American history and its economic history are synonymous," said Brent Glass, director of the museum. But he said economic history can be a complex story to tell. "We hope with our new exhibition ... we will make that story come alive."
One piece of the Dell collection came from a couple in Ashe County, N.C. They recently traded their 1985-era PC Limited, Dell's original brand, for a new computer from Dell when they realized it could be a historic artifact.
"We had it wrapped up in a garbage bag and kept it," said Clint Johnson, a nonfiction writer. He said the old computer, with its amber-colored screen, was stored in their attic.
Dell also gave the Smithsonian videos, graphics and documents to show how the business transformed into a global company.
Dell would not answer questions about the company's internal review of accounting errors and evidence of misconduct in previous earnings statements.
Despite those troubles, he said the Dell company will have a long future.
"There's no perfect path to success but we've had a lot of fun and it's been great," Dell said. "I think it's still just getting started."