New York City boasts remarkable museums: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Natural History and dozens more (including the Museum of Sex).
Hartford is known for the Wadsworth Atheneum; New Haven, the Peabody and Yale Center for British Art.
Westport has MoCA, and the Museum for History & Culture.
And now, the Westport Tech Museum.
You probably never heard of it. Unless you’re a family member of friend, you can’t get in.
But founder/curator Jay Babina has amassed — and displays, in an attic and online — an astonishing collection of over 400 computers, video games, calculators, cameras, radios and more.
That’s one fascinating fact.
Here’s another: Jay is just 17 years old.
The private school junior comes from a tech family. His father was into computers; his grandparents started radio station WMNR.
One day in 2018, in his dad’s 15-year-old car, Jay found a circa-2002 iPod. Then, in his basement, he discovered a box of old phones: a Palm Pilot, Treo, Startec and others.
He brought the box to his room. Months later, he put the objects on a shelf. To add context he researched their backgrounds, and added information cards about their designers, production and more.
As Jay added to his collection, he needed more space. The attic was perfect.
Now — even with added shelves — it’s almost too small. His 400-plus items fill most of the space.
A wide-angle view of Jay’s Tech Museum. Not all of it could fit in this photo.
Every day, Jay works on his museum. He does more research, writes new cards, finds new stuff. (Click here for a virtual tour.)
A great source is eBay. He goes to tag and estate sales, and the Elephant Trunk flea market in New Milford.
Westport residents donate objects too. One recently offered a rare Osborne 1 computer.
Jay’s personal favorites include a Commodore Amiga 1000 (his most expensive purchase — $825 — but “definitely worth it”); an original Macintosh, and (newly donated by his grandfather) a 1937 radio. “It’s a work of art,” Jay says.
The actual radio Jay’s relatives used, to listen to news after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
His wish list includes an Apple Lisa (“they’re expensive, and hard to find — all the listings are in places like Slovenia,” Jay says), and a Virtual Boy video game system.
Jay’s creativity is boundless. Here, he carefully recreates Steve Jobs’ iconic photo, with Apple’s ground-breaking Macintosh.
Jay’s museum is not open to the public. He doesn’t want random strangers walking through his parents’ house.
But the people who see it (spoiler alert: I’m a lucky one) are amazed.
Fortunately, the rest of the world can experience the Westport Tech Museum virtually (click here to enter). “Visitors” have come from as far as India, Malaysia and South Korea.
They marvel at his collection.
But they can only see its wonders — including a 1910 Edison light bulb that still shines; a 1905 crank telephone that still rings, and microphones and a 1940s-era television that once belonged to legendary voice actor Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, Barney Rubble) — in cyberspace.
A still-working 1910 GE “Edison bulb,” and an early, pre-QWERTY keyboard typewriter.
They won’t get a personal tour, as I did. They can’t hear the excitement in Jay’s voice, as he describes each piece — and its back story — to me.
There are some things technology just can’t do.
But if it’s related to technology — particularly whatever was cutting-edge, whether in the early 1900s or early 2000s — it’s there in Jay’s attic.
He’s not sure what the future holds, for his museum or technology in general.
But perhaps a few years from now, Jay will find a way to display today’s amazing — but tomorrow’s ho-hum — ChatGPT.
Now, scroll down for a tour of a few highlights from Jay’s Westport Tech Museum.
This crank telephone from 1905 still rings.
This 1914 Victrola still plays music.
An early television (top) and microphones owned by Mel Blanc.
The “History of Audio” shelves display short-wave radio, a reel-to-reel tape, 8-tracks and much more …
… and continues with LPs and 45s, cassettes, mini-discs, Walkmen, a Watchman and iPods.
Atari 400 (1979): early personal computer with Pac-Man.
A 1981 Osborne 1 — the first commercially successful portable computer. It was donated to Jay’s Tech Museum by a Westporter.
The very popular Apple IIe (left), and the first commercially successful computer with a mouse: the 128K, introduced with great fanfare as the “Big Brother” Super Bowl commercial in 1984.
A 1984 Commodore 64 — the best-selling personal computer ever.
This Commodore Amiga 1000 (1985) is Jay’s favorite.
Early Apple laptops.
Jay with a NeXT computer. The company was Steve Jobs’ venture after being forced out of Apple. It was a bit pricey, and sold only 50,000 units. But its graphical user interface was very influential.
An iMac: the first Apple product with a USB mouse (1998).
An Apple Cube (2000-2001) was a rare Steve Jobs failure. Priced incorrectly for its features, it sold only 150,000 units.
Descriptive cards and posters add information about many items. Jay writes every one himself.
Top: a 1992 “brick phone” and rotary phone. Bottom: pagers and beepers.
A collection of camcorders includes the JVC product used in 1985’s “Back to the Future.”
Jay’s museum includes “tech toys.” He also displays Cabbage Patch Kids (which saved Coleco — originally the Connecticut Leather Company — from bankruptcy after its video games were supplanted by home computers. Also, though not high-tech, on the 2nd shelf from the top: an original pie plate from Bridgeport’s Frisbie Co.
(Westport is filled with people doing amazing things. “06880” is proud to bring you their stories. Please click here to support our work.)