Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey

Nebraskan’s Success Story

Control Data Zooms In On Electronics

by Robert Houston

Sunday Omaha World-Herald Magazine, December 22, 1963

Whenever the listed price of a share of Control Data Corporation stock goes up by three points on the New York Stock Exchange, a former southwestern Nebraska farm boy makes a paper profit of $549,660.

William C. Norris is getting accustomed to having this happen. He is president of the swiftly-growing six-year-old Minneapolis firm, which was one of many to spring up in the electronics field in the last decade. most of them faded out, but not Control Data. Last March it emerged from golden-boy status to contention in the heavyweight division when its stock was accepted for listing at 36 dollars a share on the New York Stock Exchange.

Since then, it has been the fastest-rising stock the Exchange has had for many years, and it has stood among the top 10 stocks in trading volume. A week ago, it stood at 105¾.

It was a hot day in July, 1957, when Mr. Norris and several engineers formed the corporation. They offered 600 thousand shares in their company to friends and acquaintances in Minnesota. It took nearly two months to sell the stock at one dollar a share.

Fast Expansion

The company began with 11 employees. Now there are 4,400. The original stock was split three-for-one two years ago. A share originally purchased for a dollar now would be worth around three hundred dollars.

From the second year on, the company has managed a profit, and sales this year are expected to rise to above 70 million dollars.

Control Data has avoided direct competition with giants in the field such as International Business Machines. It manufactures high-speed digital computer systems ranging in sie, as Mr Norris puts it, "from small to medium, large and super".

The super computer is the new "6600" scheduled for delivery next year. It carries a seven-million-dollar price tag and Mr Norris says it "might be considered the first of the third-generation computers".

Last March, Control Data surprised the industry by acquiring the computer division of Bendix Corporation with its skilled manpower, as pat of its plan to move into the data processing field.  Within the last year, it has set up subsidiaries in Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, West Germany, France, the Netherlands and Australia.

Mr. Norris is confident, but is far from being cocky. He has known adversity at more than one stage in his life, and he feels it has taught him some valuable lessons.

Despite the heat of battle these days in electronics, Mr Norris carries vivid and happy memories of his boyhood in Nebraska.

He grew up on a thousand-acre farm along the Republican River between Inavale and Red Cloud.

"My boyhood life was, at least to me, nearly idealistic", he says in recollection. "I hunted, fished, trapped, participated in sports and did about everything that most boys like to do".

"The little one-room school I attended was enjoyable and, i would have to admit in comparison with school standards of today, not very taxing of one's ability. Even so, it was good enough to provide the basis for a higher education later.

"Much of my free time in winter in grade school days was spent in trapping. A good skunk belt would bring three or four dollars, and possum, racoon and muskrat pelts also netted a pretty good price in those days.

"The skunk odor was not saleable, but it had its uses. I recall filling a small bottle from the musk gland and taking the bottle to school with me.

"On arrival, I decided not to take it inside and risk having the teacher find it on me, so I removed a loose brick in the school foundation and threw it underneath. "Unfortunately the bottle hit a stone and broke. It was a cold day, the school stove was very hot and its wasn't long before the teacher had to let out school because of the skunks under the school house.

Three On a Pony

YOUNG Bill Norris had an older sister Katherine, now Mrs Fred Buffett of Omaha, and a twin sister, Willa, who teaches guidance and counselling at Michigan State University.

"All three of us rode one pony to school", he recalls. Being the only boy, you can easily figure our where I sat. However, having the back seat was all right because it was fun"

Young Norris was a good shot.

"one morning my dog treed what I thought was a 'coon. In the faint morning light, with my flashlight, I could see a ring tail and, being excitable I shot the animal. It turned out to be the hired man's tom-cat.

"In fact, I did not know it was the man's tom-cat until later. I skinned him and put the pelt out to dry, and a few days later the hired man saw his tom-cat hanging in the corn crib".

Young Norris drove a Model T eight miles to high school in Red Cloud, where he was a lineman on the football team. During that time he showed an interest in electronic matters he assembled a ham radio outfit.

He Herded Cattle

He helped his father herd and round up cattle in the fall and spring. In Summer, when the Republican River would get low, some bovines would wade across to reach greener pastures and then heavy rains would cause the river to flood'

"It was six or seven miles to drive the cattle back across the river. This meant having the horse swim the river several times, which I found to be exciting as I was not given to daring physical feats".

Far less exciting was the chore helping to milk five or six cows.

"Some weren't too well trained", he recalled, "so there was occasionally a foot in the bucket or some spilled milk"".

Bill Norris decided that he did not want to be a farmer, primarily because of the vagaries on Mother Nature in the area where he lived

"There were simply too many dry years", he declared. "my father's keen disappointment at prolonged periods of ... desire not to be subject to something so much beyond my control".

He enrolled in electrical engineering at the University of Nebraska in 1928. He earned part of his way, and during two years was a radio repairman for Walt's Music store in Lincoln. He remembers his employer as "a very fine, understanding person".

A roommate was Marvin Scmid, who came to Omaha as a lawyer and has been active in civic affairs.

"Bill had a real determination to succeed", says Mr. Schmid, past president of the Chamber of Commerce. "he knew what wanted and had an almost singleness of purpose. He was a real good student, but he had time for a little social life on the week-ends, too".

A Russian Thistle Triumph

YOUNG Norris found it impossible to get a job in engineering.

"It is my recollection that no one in my graduating class was able to get an engineering position until several years later", he says.

His father, William H. Norris, had died two months before graduation and with depressed farm prices plus severe droughts, Bill Norris found it necessary to run the home farm for a while".

"I became active in soil conservation work and I believe that I helped lay out the first pasture terraces in Webster County.

"One experience in 1934 stands out in my mind. Small grain had failed and the corn was burning, having gotten only knee-high. The only really green thing was Russian thistles, which had grown profusely after the grain failed.

"Many farmers had to sell their livestock because of lack of food. I recalled that when I was a boy being somewhat surprised to see cattle in the winter time pick Russian thistles out of alfalfa hay and eat them.

"This caused me to believe that by cutting and stacking green Russian thistles, when added with a small amount of concentrated feed (like cottonseed cake), I could get the cattle through the winter at a very reasonable cost. Then we could gamble on having moisture in the spring.

"We moved and stacked what I recall as more than a hundred acres of green Russian thistles. I had difficulty finding people to help because no one wanted the onus of being involved in such a foolhardy enterprise.

“I bought up more cows at distress sales. The cows did eat the thistles and the cows came through the winter in surprisingly good shape. Luckily there was moisture the next spring"

Control Data's president, William C Norris was born and reared on a farm between Inovale and Red Cloud. Neb., then graduated in engineering from the University of Nebraska.

William C. Norris and twin sister Willa are shown on the family pony at school near Inovale.

A teenage photo of Mr. Norris

Control Data Corporation recently marketed its computer 3600 and next year will have a still larger one, called the 6600.

Editor : The article suggests "Continued on the next page", but one of the great disappointments is that nothing more appeared in the Norris Scrapbooks.

The problem Norris experienced in finding an engineer's position was confirmed by a letter on the following page of his Scrapbook from a fellow classmate, Edward M Knight, then President of the Alliance National Bank ... "I did not find E.E. ("Electrical Engineering") graduates much in demand in 1932 either.  I kicked around from Carlsbad, N.M. to Cleveland, O., and finally ended up here ...".

It may well have been Knight that supplied Norris with the clipping (which has a prominent fold mark across the centre) and perhaps omitted the "next page" of the previously unidentified newspaper.

The opening paragraph of the letter suggests ...:

"I  usually thumb through the Magazine section of the Omaha World-Herald hurriedly to find the Charles Goren column for my weekly bridge lesson. On page 5 the upper picture did not stop me, but the lower one jumped out at me".  (The upper photo was a contemporary image of Norris, the lower one picturing him as a teenager and included above).

December, 2017 : The boyhood images of Norris and his twin sister were taken from the newspaper article, but I subsequently discovered that one original is stored in the Charles Babbage Institute Control Data Corporation archive. No sign of the teenage head-shot, but an alternate version of Norris himself suggests he was around 15 at the time of it being taken

I’ve left the article as it originally stood to maintain the integrity of the original - CBI images left and right :