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Fredrik Rosing Bull (Oslomarker, 25 December 1882 - 7 June 1925) was a pioneer of the IT, 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, Storebrandmarker. 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. Tragically, 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.


He was born in Oslomarker, 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.


Fredrik Rosing Bull began his studies in civil engineering at the Technical School of Kristiania in 1904, were he graduated in 1907.

The Technical School of Kristiania was built in 1889 in Oslo, and at that time provided the maximum level of studies offered in civil engineering in Norway.

Fredrik Rosing Bull was a student with a lot of talent, as shown by getting some of the best marks of his promotion.


In 1916 he was hired as a technical inspector of the insurance company Storebrandmarker where he came on contact with the tabulating machines of those days.

The punched cards and the tabulating machines were initially developed by the U.S. engineer Herman Hollerith and were used for first time in Norway by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 1894.

It's told that Bull's interest for those machines comes from a travel. Fredrik Bull was sent abroad to study Hollerith's systems from where he returned with a clear idea that Hollerith's systems were expensive and unstable. He was convinced to be able to develop something that was cheaper and more efficient than Hollerith's. As a result, got paid an advance of $10,000 for work on his machine. Working conditions were difficult because in the case the project was not successful the total amount should be refunded.

His plan was to use electromagnetic technology like Hollerith, but with a considerable number of improvements. The use of 45 columns punched-cards allowed to read the information while making contact through the holes. This method allowed to treat the information faster. While the machines currently forced to do much of the work manually, Bull provided several improvements to reduce this part of manual work, such as standardization of punched-cards and pre-selection. In modern terminology we could say that the improvements they wanted to make were a "universal programmable tabulating machine".

His first machine

Bull needed almost 2 years to implement his ideas, which would be its first complete machine.

The machine was presented in his workshop to the Storebrandmarker directors on 12 January 1921 and subsequently acquired for 20,000 pounds on 21 January 1921. The machine did not have success because it was not sufficiently efficient, stable and reliable as expected. However, it was in operation until 1926.

At the same time, Bull had contacted an old friend from high school by Nordstrand, Reidar Knutsen who headed the company Oka. Because of this contact he met Knut Andreas Knutsen, Reidar's younger brother, who was an engineer, and who began working with Bull.

The Bull machine

In 31 July 1919 Bull had made many advances and decided to patent his creation. In his patent is described in detail his idea of a programmable tabulating machine. It would not be until 1923 that would be completely finished.

Thanks to his invention, called the 'ordering, recording and adding machine' using punched card, and once he saw the success, undertook the production of new copies of his T-30 machine adding improvements beyond. Several insurance companies in Denmark, like Storebrandmarker show their interest in the technology.

Fredrik then signed a contract with society Oka, led by Reidar Knutsen, which took over the costs of manufacturing and marketing. The production of these machines was in an accuracy workshop in Oslomarker.

Bull machine used punched card of 45 columns, with round holes and a rotating adder. His machine was substantially better than its competition, Hollerith and Powers, through the mechanism of punched card pre-selection.

The machine proved a success and received very good reviews and publicity. The key factors for success were determined by the technical quality of the machine, the ease in using it, the provision regarding the above technology, the cost savings and the possibility for users to leave the IBM's monopoly and purchase their own equipment instead of renting them.

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. 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.

Sickness and death

In the summer of 1924 Bull was diagnosed with cancer, a disease that ended with his life, on 7 June 1925, when Bull was only 42 years old.

Despite the diagnosis of the summer of 1924, Bull continued to work until the aggravation he suffered in the fall of that year. Doctors did not give any hope, and he, aware of his fate left the work done. In the last few days he shared his latest ideas with Knutsen, the responsible to continue his work. Its patent rights were acquired by Oka, where Knutsen, loyal to the ideas of Bull, continued the expansion of the machine and the company. Knutsen focused on new machines to obtain the results recorded on paper forms, sorted numerically and alphabetically. He was the first to use printing wheels methods.

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.

Later Genon, aware of the improvements Knutsen was bringing in Scandinavia also tried to improve on his patents, the technology of the vertical sorting machine and printing. He finally hired Knutsen whom was given the place of chief engineer of HW Egli. This was accepted by Knutsen with the condition of the company to moving to France where there was more to reach the market. So, in 1931 HW Egli - Bull based in Paris was founded. Two years later, in 1933, the company underwent a reorganization and suffered a name change, Compagnie des Machines Bull, the current Groupe Bull. Knutsen continued as chief engineer until his retirement in 1958.


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