Computer programmer Bob Alexander in the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum this week with the ICT 1301 - the first computer in Dunedin. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Dunedin man Bob Alexander and the ICT 1301 go way back.
About 50 years ago, the ICT 1301 was the first computer in
Dunedin and Mr Alexander was one of three programmers to work
with the Cadbury Fry Hudson computer.
Born and raised in Belfast, Mr Alexander (79) emigrated to
New Zealand to ''live the good life''.
Fresh off the boat in Dunedin, he saw a job for a computer
The computer was built by the British Tabulating Machine Co -
ironically, where he had finished an apprenticeship as an
''I couldn't believe my eyes.''
When Cadbury employed him as a programmer in 1962, it planned
to buy the ICT 1300 but decided to wait a year for the
release of the cutting-edge ICT 1301.
During the wait, the three men wrote programs for the ICT
1301 but had no computer to test them for bugs.
The programs had to be sent to Wellington for testing, he
''It was ... laborious.''
When the ICT 1301 arrived in Dunedin, the programs functioned
''like clockwork'' for three months.
Then a program that tracked financially tons of boiled sweets
The fault occurred because Cadbury was late delivering the
sweets to Woolworths and the chain store returned them to
teach Cadbury a lesson, he said.
When the money was returned, the program failed and the
computer crashed, he said.
''It was quite an amazing thing.''
Finding program bugs took some detective work.
Cadbury director Stanley Lang had insisted the men find an
error that had made a company statement a penny short.
''He was a hard wee man. He insisted we find the penny to
protect the company's reputation.''
The bug occurred when a worker dropped food on a punch card,
creating a hole, which the ICT 1301 read as a penny.
''We called it the great case of the missing penny.''
An evening to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the
arrival of the computer in Dunedin was being planned for
November, he said.
ICT 1301 in Dunedin
• The International Computers and Tabulators Ltd (ICT) 1301
was Dunedin's first electronic computer.
• The machine for Cadbury Fry Hudson arrived by chartered air
transport in 15 separate packages, which weighed 5 tons, on
November 20, 1963.
• Cadbury Fry Hudson used the ICT 1301 to calculate invoices
from sales records and payroll.
• Card reader: Data fed into the mainframe by means of
80-column punched cards. Photo-electric sensors on the card
reader read data from the cards at a rate of 600 cards a
• Processors: Capable of 37,000 additions, subtractions and
transfers per second or multiply two four-digit numbers at a
rate of 1450 per second - impressive for the time but less
powerful than a modern pocket calculator.
• In 1975, the 1301 was replaced with a second-hand ICT 1902A
from Cadbury Fry Pascall in Australia.
Source: Toitu Otago Settlers