Dunedin's first computer cutting-edge in '63

Computer programmer Bob Alexander in the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum this week with the ICT 1301 ...
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 programmer advertised.

The computer was built by the British Tabulating Machine Co - ironically, where he had finished an apprenticeship as an inspector.

''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 said.

''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 crashed.

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 minute.

• 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 Museum





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