Artifact Details


The totalisator - an algorithm that led to an industry

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Moving image


Event abstract

Before the advent of computers, special-purpose hardware was used to solve computational problems. For the pari-mutuel system of gambling the main problem was keeping accurate totals of the bets placed on each horse in a race, and the grand total of all bets, in the frenzied half hour before the race, when, at the larger racecourses, tens of thousands of bets would be placed at 100s of betting booths. Mechanical solutions to this problem were pioneered by Sir George Julius who formed the company Automatic Totalisators Ltd., operating from Sydney, Australia. Indeed, this year is the centenary of Julius' first machine which was set operating in Auckland, New Zealand in 1913.

Please join Bob Doran, Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Auckland, for a presentation on the history of a little-known application of large-scale mechanical calculating machines – the horse track betting machines pioneered by Sir George Julius a century ago.

Doran will also touch on the origins of the Pari-mutuel system, devised by Joseph Oller in the 1860s. Then the first generation of simple machines that started in the 1880s and the course-wide manual systems that were used well into the 20th century. Then he will look at Julius's first machine, its "Principles of Operation", and how it was developed into a reliable product that was widely used in the 1920s, culminating with the truly giant Longchamp totalisator installed in Paris in 1927 which had 293 on-line ticket-selling machines. He will also summarize some of the further developments, including dividend prediction, that took place over the years until the special-purpose machines were phased-out in the 1970s.

Watch this event on the Computer History Museum's YouTube channel.




Doran, Bob, Speaker


Computer History Museum

Place of Publication

Mountain View, California





Copyright Holder

Computer History Museum



Collection Title

CHM Lecture Collection

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