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From DATAR to the FP-6000: Technological Change in a Canadian Industrial Context

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129802D
Original Publication Date: 1994-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

JOHN VARDALAS: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

Ferranti Canada's efforts to launch an indigenous computer industry -- with itself at the center -- and He eventual collapse of this dream constitute a more complex story than is told in the usual versions, which speak of great ideas lost to an unresponsive society. This article gives an account of Ferranti Canada's involvement in the beginnings of a Canadian electronics industry in the twenty or so years following the Second World War, against the background of world events and the Canadian political, military, and industrial scene.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1994 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

From DATAR to the FP-6000: Technological Change in a Canadian Industrial Context

JOHN VARDALAS

(Image Omitted: Some of the ideas in this article appeared as part of a larger corporate history of Ferranti-Packard written by this author and Norman R Ball1 That corporate history looked at computer developments as only part of the company s hundred-year history. This article's discussion, however, is part of a larger ongoing doctoral research topic that examines the development of computer technology in the context of the postwar Canadian political economy.)

Ferranti Canada's efforts to launch an indigenous computer industry -- with itself at the center -- and He eventual collapse of this dream constitute a more complex story than is told in the usual versions, which speak of great ideas lost to an unresponsive society. This article gives an account of Ferranti Canada's involvement in the beginnings of a Canadian electronics industry in the twenty or so years following the Second World War, against the background of world events and the Canadian political, military, and industrial scene.

The Ferranti-Packard firm arose from the 1958 merger of Ferranti Electric Ltd. and Packard Electric Ltd. The first company, a wholly owned subsidiary of the British firm Ferranti Ltd., was established in Canada in 1912, and the second, a wholly owned Canadian company, was incorporated by the American Packard brothers in St. Catharine, Ontario, in 1894. Manufacturing electrical power equipment was both firms' traditional business. Throughout this article, Ferranti Canada refers to the Canadian subsidiary, whether it is Ferranti Electric or Ferranti-Packard. Ferranti UK refers to the British parent firm.

In a 1961 attempt to carve out a profitable niche in a market dominated by IBM, Ferranti Canada set out to develop an innovative midsize general-purpose computer. The resulting computer system, called the FP-6000, was the culmination of a corporate and technological process that had started in 1949 with a military project called DATAR. Though a subsidiary of Ferranti UK, the Canadian company steered a technological and corporate course remarkably independent from its British parent firm. The FP-6000 was Canada's first attempt to establish an indigenous computer industry. Designing and building an innovative computer, however, turned out to be easier than marketing it.

In 1963, developments in the United Kingdom abruptly ended Ferranti Canada's 14-year quest to turn electronic digital computer technology into a profitable business. In an effort to make the British computer industry more competitive in the world market, the British government encouraged consolidation. One important consequence of this policy was International Computers and Tabulators acquisition in 1965...