In 1980, just ahead of the trend, Bob Roswell and Maury Weinstein decided to go into the computer business. Roswell had a degree in computer science; Weinstein, electrical engineering.
They’d grown up together in New Jersey, known each other since Hebrew school. Weinstein sold some stock options he’d acquired in a previous job, and they borrowed some money and opened Baltimore’s first ComputerLand in Lutherville. Within a few years, they bought two more, downtown and in Columbia.
“It quickly became clear that you couldn’t sell IBM computers to Black & Decker and have a store full of kids that wanted to play Atari video games,” Roswell remembers. “It was just a bad business model.”
They decided to go for the business market. In 1991, Weinstein and Roswell changed the company’s name to System Source, bought up a couple smaller companies, and now employ about 70 people.
“We found our niche as system integrators,” Roswell says, meaning they consult with organizations to design, purchase, install and maintain their technology infrastructure, from computers and software to phone systems and servers, from cloud applications to help desk and ongoing employee training. The Baltimore Sun has named System Source a Top Workplace Award Winner four times.
Also housed at the company’s Hunt Valley headquarters is the System Source Computer Museum, “one of the best collections of historical computer gadgets and technology in the world,” according to Roswell. Featured on “PBS News Hour,” in the Toronto Star, The Daily Telegraph in London, Baltimore area media and even Chinese TV, the collection includes about 6,000-8,000 items on display, plus far more in storage: abacuses, slide rules and adding machines, a 720-cubic-foot Univac computer, early video games and Apple computers and even a working Linotype machine from the mid-1950s.
Although some of the pieces are from his family — his grandfather’s 1930s Monroe calculator, for example — Roswell’s been actively acquiring, repairing and tinkering with the items for about 25 years.
“About two-thirds of what we have here works,” Roswell says, proudly. Sometimes, people who know he collects old technology will call with a lead, but he regularly gets inquiries, often when people are cleaning out older relatives’ homes. Sometimes they think what they have is worth a lot of money (it hardly ever is, he says). More often, they just want to find a good home for something they know a parent or grandparent treasured.
Roswell gives tours of the collection to a wide range of groups. During the course of one week, for example, he hosted volunteers from the National Electronics Museum in Linthicum Heights, an elementary class from Redeemer Church School and a group of senior citizens.
Different groups gravitate to different items, Roswell says. Some older visitors love to see machines that they grew up with. On the other hand, “that pay phone amazes kids. Most of them have no idea how to even work a dial phone.”
Thirty-seven years after they started the business, Bob and Maury are still partners, still going strong. And in case you were wondering, after 27 years, Bob’s youngest sister is still married to Maury’s youngest brother.
Jon Shorr is a freelance writer based in Mount Washington.