Frequently Asked Questions

Overall questions

What is Musée Bolo?

Musée Bolo is the name of the Swiss museum of computer science, digital culture and video games. It is managed by the volunteers of the Mémoires Informatiques foundation and the Les Amis du Musée Bolo association.

Founded by Yves Bolognini in 1995, the collection now belongs to the Mémoires Informatiques foundation, The museum was originally created from a private collection of old computers (1950 to 2011) and also includes peripherals, documentation, books, magazines, software and video games.

Musée Bolo currently consists of an exhibition space at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and several depots located around Lausanne.

The museum has been recognized by the Association des Musées Suisses (AMS) and by the Association des Musées de Lausanne et Pully (AMLP) since 2004.

Were does the name Bolo comes from?

“Bolo” is the nickname given to all the men of the Bolognini family, a name that is a little long and difficult to pronounce according to Yves Bolognini, founder of the museum.

What does Musée Bolo do?

Our missions are the following:

  • Acquire and save.
  • Preserve and restore.
  • Study, analyze and document.
  • Exhibit.
  • Transmit.

Musée Bolo and EPFL

Is Musée Bolo part of EPFL?

The museum’s exhibition space is located within EPFL campus. It is a private museum managed by the volunteers of the foundation Mémoires Informatiques and the association Les Amis du Musée Bolo.

What is the relationship between EPFL, the museum and the collection?

EPFL provides a space for the exhibition and a workshop free of charge. The collection belongs to the Mémoires Informatiques foundation. The exhibition space is managed by the volunteers of Musée Bolo. The objects presented in the exhibition represent only a tiny part of the collection (about 3%), the major part of which is currently stored in warehouses, at the expense of Musée Bolo.

Why doesn’t EPFL finance Musée Bolo?

EPFL already finances the museum with an annual budget of CHF 9,000, in addition to providing an exhibition space free of charge. The main missions of EPFL are education and research whereas the financing of culture is the respnsability of the cantons.

The collections of Musée Bolo

How long have you been collecting old computers?

Yves Bolognini’s first computer was a Commodore Amiga 2000, bought in 1988. But the first computer in the collection is an Apple IIe, found by the side of the road in 1995, when the founder was studying computer science at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). The collection was not actually started until 1996, thanks in part to the impetus of Professor Jean-Daniel Nicoud, a pioneer in microcomputing. A first exhibition of 25 computers was organized near Geneva. Thanks to press articles on the subject, the collection has been able to grow much faster since 1999.

Why is there such an urgent need to preserve computer and video game heritage?

Computer and video game heritage is lacking in legitimacy, i.e. many people or institutions do not consider this heritage as important. This results in the scrapping and destruction of a great many objects belonging to the digital culture that has so influenced our civilization over the last 70 years. There is, therefore, an urgency to save these objects and store them in the best possible conditions. Something that complicates our mission is the obsolescence of technologies and the degradation of data carriers. All computer data media are much more fragile than traditional media (e.g. books) and degrade very quickly (in a few decades). Many cultural institutions are already finding it very difficult to read floppy disks or CDs from the last 20-30 years.

How many items do you have?

The collection includes more than 5,000 computers and game consoles, 8,000 software programs and 15,000 books and magazines.

Why collect old computers?

What started as a passion for engineering turned into the realisation that a very important part of the technological heritage that completely transformed the end of the 20th century (and continues to influence our daily life on multiple levels) was going to be lost for future generations!

It is a question of preserving these extremely rapidly evolving objects, because they allow us to understand and explain the important links and derivations between technologies. They are central to many current and future fields of study: history and epistemology of science and technology, history of uses, communication, even representations, game studies, etc. However, their interest extends far beyond the academic field, since they shed light on the changes and challenges that everyone is necessarily facing today, not to mention the cultural and social aspects that so delight enthusiasts.

Is the collection worth anything? What is the value of this or that machine?

That’s not an easy question to answer in monetary terms, but if only for its heritage value… it is obviously worth preserving! All the more so since we are not in a position to know what will or will not be important in 100 years time. There is no basis on which objects can be sorted; everything is potentially of interest.

Why keep multiple copies of the same object?

The reasons are multiple, it is interesting to have several copies of the same object:

  • For security reasons, in case of damage or theft.
  • In order to be able to turn computers back on, the museum’s policy is to keep at least 2 identical objects intact (except in exceptional cases).
  • To be able to lend objects to other museums.

Why doesn’t Musée Bolo put the results of its work online? Why prevent the general public from benefiting from all this?

The only results of a museum’s work are:

  • the inventory of its collections;
  • its publications, photos and videos;
  • its cultural mediation projects.

It is planned to share some of the information in our inventory, but this is a long-term project. Whenever possible and within the limits of our resources, we will make the fruits of our work available online. For example, we already share our photos and videos which can be used free of charge so long as they carry the caption “Musée Bolo”.

Musée Bolo, like all Swiss cultural institutions, must respect the law. The distribution and exhibition of works of art, press articles, photos, software or video games are protected by copyright and require the written consent of the rights holders. Musée Bolo collaborates with historians, researchers and enthusiasts who wish to inventory, study and document the objects in its collection.

And where do you store all this?

The collection is stored in two repositories. The first one, already full, is located in Chavannes-près-Renens and occupies an area of 100 m2. From the end of 1999 until the opening of Musée Bolo at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), it housed a “museum” space that could be visited by appointment. The second, larger space is located near Lausanne train station. It is more comfortable and it is there that the most active volunteers of the association repair, clean, inventory and prepare demonstrations.

What do you collect apart from the computers themselves?

Musée Bolo is first and foremost a collection of computers. But its ambition is also to preserve everything related to the history of computers and video games. On the hardware side there are peripherals such as terminals, tape drives and a few printers – in short, everything required to operate computers. Old game consoles and mechanical calculators are also preserved. In order to revive the hardware, it is also necessary to save the documentation (if only to study the way this hardware was presented, valued, etc.). We therefore collect manuals related to the machines we have preserved. And to preserve the material in its original context, we also have a collection of several thousand period magazines and books, as well as advertising material and development documentation (plans, etc.). The collection also includes works of art created with the help of computers.

How do you find new items?

The first computers in the collection were found in skips by Yves Bolognini, then by publishing classified ads and spreading the word around people he knew. Then, as his activities became known in the region through temporary exhibitions, there were more and more spontaneous proposals. A large part of the material came from private individuals. Schools and companies also provided some beautiful pieces.

Why amass all these old machines?

Digital technology has revolutionized the existence of humanity since the 1950s, both positively and negatively. In work and communication tools, as well as in forms of entertainment and art, digital has invaded modern society, whether we like it or not.

The primary mission of Musée Bolo is to prevent the traces of this major technological evolution from disappearing. These traces take different forms: computers, software, books, but also the accounts and know-how of the people who participated in this story.

Video games today constitute an artistic form whose early years are likely to be very poorly documented, just like the beginnings of cinema, a large part of the early production of which has completely disappeared due to a lack of early recognition of its importance. We can still save the beginnings of video games in Switzerland; let’s not make the same mistakes again.

How does Musée Bolo regard private collectors? Does it collaborate with them?

Musée Bolo is an institution that was founded by a private collector, Yves Bolognini. We therefore have the greatest respect for private collections. Nevertheless, the patrimonial mission of Musée Bolo differs from the objectives of private collectors. The museum must be able to guarantee the sustainability of the computer and video game heritage over the long term, with priority given to Swiss heritage. Musée Bolo regularly collaborates with private collections in Switzerland and abroad in addition to cultural institutions.

Do you buy the machines? What is the ratio of donations to purchases?

Purchases are extremely rare, more than 95% of the machines in the collection come from donations (by the way, thank you to all the donors!). Of course, we are open to any proposal, especially when it is a rare model that we do not have. But generally speaking, the budget tends to be allocated to the conservation of the collection.

Is there a machine that stands out from the crowd?

Each computer is special in its own way: it can be rare, beautiful, original or fun. Nevertheless, there is a beautiful collection of Swiss material and documentation. Not everyone knows that Switzerland has designed and sold computers, and this part of the collection is certainly unique in the world. Among the Swiss computers, the Smaky 6, the first to be marketed to the general public (1978), is worth mentioning.

What is the oldest, heaviest, rarest computer in the collection?

The heaviest are without hesitation the Cray 1S, Cray 2 and IBM BlueGene/Q computers, which weigh several tons. Transporting them is always an adventure. The oldest computer in the collection is the Cora 1 from Contraves. This machine dates back to 1963 and is the first transistor computer to be marketed in Switzerland. The oldest object is a Bull manual card puncher dating from 1937. The rarest computer is certainly the Smaky 2, a Swiss prototype of which only two copies were ever made. Among the computers that have been marketed but are currently considered rare are the BeBox (1995, 1’800 units sold), the Science of Cambridge MK14, the Apple Lisa 2, the IMSAI 8080, the older ones like the IBM System/3 and the HP 2116b, and the Swiss computers.

I’m looking for the X cable for computer Y or the Z game diskette. Do you have it in your collection?

Quite frequently the first answer to such questions is simply: “We don’t know”. The collection is stored in two large and very full rooms, and although an inventory is underway, it is difficult for us to know exactly where each cable and diskette is located.

I have an old floppy disk, magnetic tape or punch card that I would like to read, can you do it? How much does it cost?

Some data recoveries are quite simple. Others require hours of research and electronic (or even mechanical!) work. As the requests come in, the members of the association gain experience in this field, but we have to study each case before we can guarantee a result. As far as the cost is concerned, it all depends (it can take 5 minutes or several days of work). In this second case, we may redirect you to specialized companies.

Can you lend a computer for an illustration, a film?

Yes, of course, whenever we can show our machines, we are delighted to do so. Regarding photographs, the origin and the address of the website must be mentioned in all cases. If any research or restoration work needs to be undertaken, we appreciate a modest financial compensation. This can take the form of advertising or promotion, according to prior agreement.

Do you have royalty-free photographs? Can I use the photographs on the website?

We have a large number of photographs illustrating the computers in the collection, also in high resolution. Most of the time, the use is free of charge. However, the provenance must always be clearly indicated, with the website address: “Musée Bolo –”. Ideally, the photograph should be contextualized if it is taken on our premises, so that the storage space is not confused with the exhibition space, for example. In any case, even for non-commercial use, please contact us before using a photograph.

Musée Bolo's exhibitions

Where is Musée Bolo? Where is the exhibition space of the museum?

The exhibition space of Musée Bolo is generously povided by the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Écublens near Lausanne. You will find a map here.

This space hosts the museum’s permanent exhibition “Programmed Disappearance” as well as temporary exhibitions. The objects presented in the exhibition space represent only a tiny part of the collection (about 3%), the major part of which is currently stored in our reserves, at the museum’s expense.

Our main storeroom and workshop, of about 650 m2 next to Lausanne train station, houses the major part of the collections. Part of the premises was first made available free of charge by the ELCA for many years. Since 2017, we have gradually had to finance the rent, which is approximately CHF 37,800 per year, or about CHF 3,150 per month, a price per square meter of CHF 58 per year.

Our second reserve, for large objects, is in a garage. It is a depot of about 100 m2 in Chavannes-près-Renens. This room is historically the first depot of the museum and continues to serve us for large objects or objects on pallets. This room costs CHF 6’700 per year.

Who is the exhibition for?

Musée Bolo can be of interest to everyone: young or old, computer professional or beginner. Some visitors are nostalgic for the machines of their childhood or youth, while others discover that there was a world before their PC. Since the museum opened, all sorts of people have come to visit. Volunteers from the Les Amis du Musée Bolo association organize guided tours on request.

What are the opening hours? Do you offer guided tours?

Exhibitions are open from 8am – 7pm Monday to Friday.
Closed during the Christmas school vacations.
Free entrance.

Guided tours can be organized for groups. Please contact us well in advance!

Can you organize a temporary exhibition or animation for a specific event? How much does it cost?

We regularly organize exhibitions and animations in collaboration with museums in the region or within the framework of events. Computers from the collection have also been exhibited in companies or schools. The cost of an exhibition depends on several factors: location, duration, number of machines (and whether switched on or not), the need for a member of the museum to be present on site, etc. After discussion with the organizer, we will be able to establish a detailed estimate.

When was the museum’s exhibition space created?

The first permanent exhibition was inaugurated on June 19, 2002. One year later, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the visual aspect was completely rethought. In May 2003, the exhibition was renamed Musée Bolo. On November 10th 2011, the current exhibition Programmed Disappearance was born.

The association Les Amis du Musée Bolo

What is the association Les Amis du Musée Bolo? What is its purpose and what are its activities?

The Les Amis du Musée Bolo association (formerly aBCM for Amis du Bolo’s Computer Museum) is the driving force of Musée Bolo. It is responsible for safeguarding and preserving the collections, organizing guided tours and preparing participation in various events. This may be simply for the pleasure of operating an old machine or in order to prepare a temporary exhibition. Once the equipment is cleaned and functional, the corresponding software must still be found and selected. Apart from Tuesday evenings, the members of the association, who are all volunteers, are present at temporary exhibitions, help with the recovery of machines or conduct guided tours of Musée Bolo.

How many members are registered? How do I become a member?

The Les Amis du Musée Bolo association has about 93 registered members. Of these, about 15 are active voluntary members.

To join, all you have to do is register on the page provided for this purpose. You will then become a member. We encourage you to become an active member by participating in the life of the Museum.

How can I help?

The rent for the depots is expensive, despite the relatively low price per m2. We are looking for sponsors to help us finance these depots.

The activities of the association are increasingly visible (exhibitions, press, internet) and “retro” is very fashionable. Maybe your company would be interested in a partnership? Any financial help is also welcome.

We also need volunteers to help us with the conservation of our collections. If you are interested in the technical side of things or are willing to help with inventory, you can come and help us on Tuesday evenings. There is always a lot of work to be done. You can also take care of the recovery of machines or the organization of exhibitions. Everyone can help out, each in his own way. Finally, the easiest way to help us is to give us some publicity. Tell your friends, colleagues and journalists about us!

How are the association’s activities financed?

Everyday activities (exhibitions, purchase of materials for restoration, etc.), managed by the association’s volunteers, are financed by membership fees, guided tours, data recovery services and public events. They also cover part of the storage costs.

Financing and budget of Musée Bolo

Isn’t the budget too small to claim true museum status?

A museum of modest size for the moment (but whose holdings make it nevertheless one of the most beautiful collections in Europe!) can be of great cultural and educational value for the public, as it is growing. Moreover, we have numerous partnerships with various museum institutions, both nationally and internationally. Museum status doesn’t depend on budget. It is essentially a function of the seriousness of an institution’s work, the value and importance of its collection and the recognition of other museums.

Our main expenses are the rent of the depots. All activities are carried out by volunteers; we have no salaried staff.

Who does Musée Bolo pay rent to?

The exhibition space on the EPFL campus is made available free of charge by the faculty of Computer Science and Communication, with the support of the school management. We therefore do not pay rent for this space, which frees us from an important cost if we had to finance it. Our two depots (Lausanne and Chavannes-près-Renens) are rented by the Mémoires Informatiques foundation from private owners.

Why not change your storage space for something cheaper?

The rents for our premises are not particularly high given the surface areas. We have tried to find cheaper spaces, while respecting practical considerations, without success. Furthermore, any move of collections the size of Musée Bolo’s would require considerable financial and human investment. We estimated that the financial costs alone would be the equivalent of one year’s rent. To be profitable, the move would have to be made to a much cheaper location (e.g. 50% cheaper). Furthermore, to enter into a commercial lease, Musée Bolo would have to have satisfactory financial guarantees.

Does Musée Bolo receive public money or subsidies?

As of November 14, 2020, financing that we could consider public are as follows:

  • EPFL, up to CHF 9,000 per year.
  • The Commune of Écublens, to the tune of CHF 1,000 per year.
  • Some public institutions (museums, festivals), through mandates for exhibitions or events such as the Swiss National Museum, the Numerik Games festival, the municipality of Lausanne on the occasion of the YOG 2020. Of course, this funding is not guaranteed and is only provided on an ad hoc basis.

Why doesn’t a municipality or the Canton of Vaud finance Musée Bolo?

This is already the case for the municipality of Écublens which supports us. The support of Musée Bolo by the Canton of Vaud is still under discussion.

In June 2016, the deputy Laurent Ballif tabled a motion entitled “Preservation of heritage and conservation of the cantonal archives: two reasons to support Musée Bolo”, which was transformed into a postulate in April 2017 and referred to the State Council in August 2017. The postulate is still open to this day. Although we would like to call for greater consideration from the public authorities, we can understand that investing in IT or video game conservation may be a bold political choice. We are aware that the legitimization of this heritage may still take time, and our concern is to be able to avoid the disappearance of this heritage and therefore to continue our modest activities while waiting for more favorable conditions. Political personalities change, and with time, new people may be able to better recognize the importance and value of the heritage we are trying to preserve.

All this is very expensive! Why finance Musée Bolo rather than the daycare centers or sports facilities?

Musée Bolo’s budget of CHF 50,000 per year is very modest considering the size of the collection and the result of the work of volunteers. A sports facility or a crèche has a much larger budget than the current museum. It is not Musée Bolo’s job to decide how public or private funds should be invested.

Of course, we want everyone to have the necessary infrastructure to meet whatever needs they have. Musée Bolo is aimed at anyone who wants a cultural or entertaining but also educational experience on a subject that affects us all and whose importance is growing every day. To illustrate this in a poetic way, a donor left us a small thought full of meaning: Without dinosaurs, there would be no birds.

What happens if Musée Bolo can no longer find funding?

The collection will be donated to another Swiss institution with a similar purpose to the Mémoires Informatiques foundation.

Why don’t you sell pieces from the collection to finance yourself?

Because we are a museum. In essence, a museum does not sell the pieces in its collection. The heritage of a museum is, in principle, inalienable except under very particular conditions.

In 2017, you already had financial worries and received CHF 50,000? What did you do in 3 years with all that money? Are you going to ask for money every 3 years?

The main expenses of Musée Bolo are the depots where the collection is stored. 85% of the donations were used to pay the rent for the depots and the remaining 15% were used to pay the campaign expenses. But this only covers part of the operating costs.

Other sources of financing are membership fees (approx. CHF 5,000 per year), guided tours (approx. CHF 5,000 to 6,000 per year), events (approx. CHF 5,000 to 10,000 per year) and subsidies/sponsorship (approx. CHF 11,000 per year).

The situation in 2020 is very different from that of 2017. Due to the global pandemic, volunteer activities came to a complete halt in March as all events and almost all visits were cancelled. This represents an estimated loss of income of approximately CHF 10,000 to CHF 16,000.

A request for COVID-19 aid from the Service des Affaires Culturelles du Canton de Vaud (SERAC) has been submitted but the conditions to receive aid are strict and only financial losses are taken into account. The poor financial situation of the Mémoires Informatiques foundation does not allow it to meet the criteria for SERAC assistance. Consequently, only the Les Amis du Musée Bolo association has received a paltry sum (CHF 1,008). The objective of the “reboot” campaign is, firstly, to be able to respond to the emergency and, secondly, to find several sponsors to stabilize the finances of the Mémoires Informatiques foundation.

Without dinosaurs, there would be no birds