An appeal for more information

On 27 January 2000 Charles Norrie sent me email from London. He raised two questions in which I have a particular interest.

Firstly he asked whether I had any film or video of working Julius ( electro-mechanical ) totalisators. I lament that I have not seen a Julius totalisator in action and have often wondered about the existence of film footage. I have included Charles' email here as an appeal to anyone who may be able to provide more information on these systems film or otherwise.

Secondly Charles is interested in the relationship between these Julius totalisators and computers. I have often contemplated this question. It is curious to think of a multi user real time system with distributed points of sale in 1913. The largest of these systems in operation, that I am aware of, was in Longchamps in 1928 with 273 terminals. (Postscript - I have recently read a post world war 2 booklet titled The Julius Premier Totemobile, which lists all installations by number of terminals. It shows White City Stadium London as having 320 terminals.) A system was built and tested in Sydney capable of supporting 1000 terminals and sales in excess of 4000 per second. Did mechanical computers exist? If not, had these systems been more widely known would they have been classified as mechanical computers? There are many analogies with computers and the metrics are very similar e.g. number of terminals, sales per second, time to print ticket and error rate. There were input devices, the ticket issuing machines and output devices, total counters odds indicators and ticket printers. An electro mechanical device called a scanner seems to me to be the mechanical counterpart of a serial line multiplexer. A mechanical device was used for adjusting the amount of commission deducted from the pool. We would be very interested in hearing some opinions on this matter. We can be contacted via totehis@hotmail.com The system at Harringay was the last Julius tote to cease operation. It operated until 1987.

Postscript - It is now June 2005 and I have just received mail from Caracas. I was informed that the Julius tote there is still in operation. After 48 years of operation I have been asked if I have any information on how to make adjustments to the system to bring it up-to-date!

I asked Max Burnet, Vice President of the Australian Computer Museum Society about mechanical computers. He replied

"The catagory of mechanical computers never got established. Relay and valves yes, but mechanical no. The ATL tote certainly deserved to be classified as a mechanical computer."


Charles' email

I have viewed your site on George Alfred Julius and the automatic totalisator with great interest. May I congratulate you on it.

There are several purposes in sending this e-mail to (i) to introduce myself as someone who has some considerable interest in Julius (ii) to write about the Harringay tote which GLIAS (the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society) recorded working during its last days and (iii) to ask you whether you know of any film or video sources of the operation of Julius machines.

I became interested in the Harringay tote machine in 1987 - I had not heard of Julius before that - and particularly in its operation as a kind of mechanical (or electro-mechanical) computer. The machine at Harringay must have been much as it was at the time of its major update in the 1930’s - though drums of an earlier installation were still in place. The only major modification was the addition of magnetic counters which transferred running counts to a computer which generated a video presentation of the running odds on the win bet. The odds calculating machinery had been left in place and was operated mainly as a way of providing a back up set of counters! The equipment retained the odds display dials but the system of odds clocks that must have been placed round the track had sadly disappeared. Apart from this the mechanism was in full working order and was well maintained up to the time of the last race. It disappeared in a week - though our Science Museum has preserved a small and representative sample of each piece of equipment at its Wroughton stores near Bath.

Our recording was restricted to noting the working arrangements of the machinery, taking photographs both b&w and colour slides and making a short video on its operation - it goes through two cycles.

I was interested in the machine primarily as a form of computer - certain claims can be made for the Julius machinery - such as its ‘time-sharing’ ability though, of course, Julius thinks in very different terms. I was not able to trace any influence from Julius machines to modern computer developments, sadly. I had hoped there might have been some direct inputs. Reading one of Julius’ papers I was intrigued to find that he had discovered Babbage - but here again it seems to be after Julius had done the bulk of his work, and he does not think very highly of him.

Not surprising one could argue - Babbage rested in the luxury of Government funding to build a machine that no-one quite knew what use it would be - by contrast Julius was building a highly commercial machine and needing to develop and expand its utility to meet the ever growing demands placed upon it.

Some of these thoughts have been presented to GLIAS and the Computer Conservation Society here in London. The GLIAS lecture was re-written as an article - which I would be very willing to send you. Snail-mail would be best as the source was never fully electronic and the delicate patent drawings from Julius’ UK patents would not survive scanning very well.

It would be very helpful if you knew of any sources of footage of film or video of Julius machines - we organise a film evening together with the Newcomen Society and the subject this year is likely to be early computing machines.

Yours

Charles Norrie

Previous page Go to the index Top of the page