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Fredrik Rosing Bull : biography

25 December 1882 - 7 June 1925

Fredrik Rosing Bull (Oslo, 25 December 1882 – 7 June 1925) was an Information technology pioneer, known for his works on improved punched card machines.

In 1907 he finished his studies in civil engineering in the Technical School of Kristiania (Kristiania Tekniske Skole). In 1916 he was hired as a technical inspector of the insurance company Storebrand. Here is where his interest for the punched card machines technology started, and took over the task of developing his own punched card machine. In 1919 he obtained his patent, and in 1921, he prepared a team that took over the introduction of its new machine in the company where Bull worked at that time, Storebrand. This team provided several and more effective new ideas the Bull machine, causing it to be superior to the Hollerith's one used then, the IBM precursor. Bull will continue to develop his ideas, improving the machine, which was a huge success throughout Europe. He was diagnosed with cancer at a very early age and died in 1925 when he was just 42 years old. His patents were later sold in 1931 and constituted the basis for the founding of the French company Groupe Bull, currently one of the largest companies operating in over 100 countries.

Family

He was born in Oslo, son of Ole Bornemann Bull (1842–1916) and his first wife Marie Cathrine Lund (1843–1884). His father, Dr. Ole Bull, was a renowned eye doctor. Among other things, he collaborated with Gerhard Armauer Hansen who discovered Mycobacterium leprae the causative agent of leprosy, in the investigation of the effects of leprosy in the eyes. It is also known for having developed a method to determine the degree of sensation of color.

Fredrik was raised in a large family. He was the eighth of fifteen children. The Bull family represents both the talent and passion for technology and science because, for example, all Fredrik's older brothers were engineers. His brother Anders Henrik Bull is known for his studies in wireless radiotelegraphy.

Fredrik followed the family tradition and in 1904 began his studies in civil engineering in Kristiania Teknisk Skole.

Other patents

Bull continued working on improvements for the machine and also in developing new machines. For example, a sorting machine and a new tabulating machine.

Some of the notable improvements are: the change of switches that controlled the entry of punched cards and the expansion device in larger scale.

The reading device was the most critical part of the machine. Built with conductors of electricity or springs, punched cards were introduced, the springs passed through the holes producing contact. The springs only passed through the holes of the punched cards, and then the information got stored. He obtained the ideas for this machine by stealing the notes of Henrik Hartzner, his Danish partner. One of the main problems of this method was the low durability of the material of the cards, which meant that the method did not always work the right way. Another major problem was the dust that entered the holes of the contacts. Finally, one of the biggest problems Bull and Knutsen had to face was that because of the contacts, sparks were created and made the machine to crash frequently. All these details were being constantly improved.

Production of Bull machines was rather slow. In 1921 there was a production of 2 machines, 2 in 1922, 2 in 1923, 4 to 1924 and 6 in 1925, distributed among companies in Norway, Denmark (Hafnia as a remarkable client), Finland and Switzerland. There were problems constantly and because of that, Knut Andreas Knutsen was constantly traveling to these countries, repairing and modifying equipment for the clients.

Groupe Bull

The years following Bull's death, 1926, 1927 and 1928 were years of difficulty but also of joys and surprises. The machines installed and leased to Swiss companies had attracted great interest in Switzerland. In 1927, the Belgian Emile Genon bought the patents to operate in the European continent (excluding Scandinavia). In 1928 he got in agreement with the Swiss company HW Egli in order to produce Bull machines. Production began in 1929.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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