October 1, 2023


Your Partner in the Digital Era

How a Kiwi inventor constructed the 1st pc – and introduced betting to the masses

The world’s 1st laptop was a setting up-sized machine run by gravity and utilized to tally horse racing bets, but its correct revolution was enabling commoners to gamble for the first time. Jonathan Killick studies.

If you can think it, the world’s to start with laptop or computer was built by a Kiwi engineer in 1913, who graduated from the University of Canterbury and promptly moved to Australia for far better wages.

But, we’re not speaking about the type of desktop or handheld laptop or computer on which you might browse this tale. This device was manufactured of gears, cables and pulleys, and took up an overall setting up.

Instead of chips and transistors it applied mechanical features to compute equations and show them in serious time. It was powered by gravity with concrete blocks pulling down cables – a equivalent mechanism to a grandfather clock.

Engineer George Julius was not a betting male, according to accounts from the time, but developed the contraption with his sons in a garage to automate the process of casting and tallying votes in a regional election.

While Western Australia was not eventually ready to trust democracy to a mere device, Julius observed an adopter in the horse racing market, especially Ellerslie Racecourse in Auckland.

Quickly-forward to 2023, and the making wherever Julius’ background-earning “totalisator machine” was housed is continue to within gaze of the Southern Motorway.

Pictured here, the totalisator machine surrounded by punters at Ellerslie Racecourse in the 1940s.

Auckland Racing Club/Equipped

Pictured in this article, the totalisator machine surrounded by punters at Ellerslie Racecourse in the 1940s.

“You can imagine the noise of the devices and the smell of cigar smoke and stale beer,” Auckland Racing Club main executive Paul Wilcox suggests.

Wilcox clarifies that punters would put their guess on a provided horse with a teller who would pull a lever, affectionally regarded as a “beer handle”.

There was a deal with for every single horse related to a spaghetti network of taut cables that, when tugged, would register a guess.

The totalisator equipment would update a significant display screen with quantities on wheels, exhibiting how a lot cash experienced been placed on each individual of the 30 horses, therefore revealing what winners stood to attain.

It was a one of a kind technological marvel that could manage the enter of each teller, make calculations and display the result in true time, all at after, and without the need of electric power.

Record seems to have sidestepped Julius’ accomplishment, with most attributing England’s Charles Babbage’s layout for a “difference engine” in 1830 as currently being the first mechanical personal computer, although a performing model wasn’t basically created till the 1990s.

The old display of the totalisator is still at Ellerslie, currently only performing an ornamental function.


The aged screen of the totalisator is even now at Ellerslie, now only undertaking an ornamental operate.

Julius’ technological revolution formed New Zealand modern society, illustrated in the extra than 100 racecourses at their peak, with about 50 remaining inspite of the sport’s declining prominence.

It also experienced substantial international results with hundreds of machines put in throughout 29 nations.

The totalisator machine opened up race betting from staying an action linked with both rich associates of a club, or dens of bookmakers, to being a sport of the day-to-day Kiwi – much to the protestation of modern day moralisers.

All over the time of the machine’s introduction, the Northern Advocate reported that the Auckland Ministers Association alleged to a board of commissioners that it experienced resulted in an boost in gambling.

“There have been folks who would bet with the tote who would not guess with bookmakers. The tote lends an overall look of respectability and basic safety,” the report reported.

In 1914, J Pollock of the Wellington Racing Club was quoted saying the tote had been liable for escalating the stakes and an improvement in courses and racing studs.

“No revenue was rung up on the tote except compensated by means of the windows, and it was unquestionably extremely hard for the proprietor, coach or jockey to manipulate the machine. The tote staff members would to start with have to be corrupt, and this kind of tricks would be evident to the merest tyro.”

So prolific was the modify, that the authorities of the working day decided to ban all bookmaking and fashioned a point out-owned gambling monopoly – the Totalisator Agency Board, recognized more typically right now as the TAB.

Large counter wheels would be fitted to the display sign of the totalisator which would show how much money had been placed on a particular horse – and thus what punters stood to win from a pool.

Energy Property Museum/Provided

Large counter wheels would be fitted to the show indication of the totalisator which would display how significantly money had been positioned on a distinct horse – and consequently what punters stood to get from a pool.

The Auckland Star claimed in 1924 that the Labour authorities had tried using to introduce a invoice to ban the totalisator, but by then it experienced taken hold.

“The job of abolishing the tote is no easy one particular, due to the fact though the the vast majority of racegoers would like to see equally tote and bookmakers, the prospects are that of the two, the machine is favored.

“New Zealanders, although not confirmed gamblers by any extend of creativity, are a sports activities-loving local community, and dearly enjoy have to a very little flutter.”

In a 1928 letter to the Hawke’s Bay Tribune a Hastings resident expressed that the attractiveness of the 10-shilling tote was “in robust evidence at the trots”.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to make this racing club a lot more preferred with the bulk of the public. With the present scarcity of ready money, the 1-pound ticket debars hundreds from investing on the tote, as they just, like myself, simply cannot afford to pay for it.”

Ellerslie Racecourse in 1916, not long after the totalisator machine had been installed. Credit: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection.

Auckland Libraries/Supplied

Ellerslie Racecourse in 1916, not long soon after the totalisator equipment experienced been put in. Credit score: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection.

Ross Hawthorn, a previous staff of Ellerslie Racecourse in the 1960s and 70s, states portion of the rationale it grew to become so preferred was that there was bugger all else to do.

“In people times it was ‘rugby, racing and beer’, and racing most likely experienced the exact same profile as rugby.”

The gentlemen would show up at in their suits and the girls would be dressed in their finery and hats, he reported.

“I try to remember in the late 70s we experienced a jackpot, and it could only be won on the training course. It experienced to be struck as soon as it attained more than $50,000, and we experienced hit $47,000.

“The pursuing Saturday took place to be a stinking wet day in the center of June, but we did about $1.6 million [in turnover] with absolutely everyone who experienced turned out.

“One of the jokers who received it went to the window to get his ticket paid out out, and he walked away with a canvas bag packed with dollars. A Television set announcer experienced to explain to him to set it away.”

Attending the races was a formal occasion and a reason to dress up. Pictured here, Ellerslie Racecourse in 1990. Credit: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection.

Auckland Libraries/Provided

Attending the races was a official situation and a explanation to costume up. Pictured listed here, Ellerslie Racecourse in 1990. Credit: Auckland Libraries Heritage Assortment.

In the meantime, in the 21st century, the horse-racing business is on the precipice of another technological breakthrough that bears several similarities to the acclaim and controversy of the totalisator equipment.

As the racing industry’s revenues decline in the face of competitiveness from on the net gambling, the Govt introduced in May perhaps it had permitted a billion-dollar deal involving the TAB and international electronic betting business Entain.

Racing Minister Kieran McAnulty also said the Government was looking at banning on the net betting outside the house the TAB, again forming a regulated monopoly.

He claimed the sector was worth $1.6 billion to the financial system and straight used 14,000 folks.

The announcement has been fulfilled with criticism from the Dilemma Gambling Basis, which continues to be unconvinced that Entain’s harm reduction know-how will counteract the ease of entry of betting applications.

Auckland Racing Club chief govt Paul Wilcox suggests the deal will reinvigorate the market and entice young talent again to the courses.

“In any industry, transform is the a single issue that can be confirmed. Some people today will be for it, other individuals will be in opposition to.”

Auckland Racing Club chief executive Paul Wilcox in the room where the totalisator was housed. In the background the teller windows are still visible.


Auckland Racing Club chief executive Paul Wilcox in the place the place the totalisator was housed. In the qualifications the teller windows are even now obvious.

He thinks that horse racing proceeds to keep a placement in modern Aotearoa along with mainstay sports like soccer or rugby.

“People dress up, there is a perception of occasion. You discuss to people on the class, and it can be the ambiance, the majestic animal and the intoxication of it all – and I’m not referring to staying drunk.”

He states there is absolutely nothing like the sweet smell of sweat on a horse that has just returned from racing on the monitor.

“For quite a few Aucklanders, it may well be their very first knowledge of staying up near to an animal like that. A race horse weighs about 550kgs and can operate 70kph.”

The golden age of the totalisator device might be more than, in favour of newfangled applications and widgets, but the racecourse hasn’t forgotten its 170-yr history.


Kiwi engineer George Julius’ “totalisator machine” – the first computer ever constructed – produced its mark on heritage, with hundreds becoming bought to programs in 29 nations around the world.

The tin facade of Julius’ machine’s exhibit was constructed in excess of when the building was converted into a stable in the 60s, but it was unearthed in 2019 when it was renovated into a perform space.

Wilcox says the intention is to retrofit it with LEDs and have it proudly display screen odds and earnings for present-day punters.

“Everything we do is to progress the sport of racing, but if we eliminate the historical past, we won’t get it again.”