Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey


The William C. Norris Scrapbooks

Perhaps some will not be aware of it, but a massive volume of CDC company records and historical material passed to the Charles Babbage Institute after the corporation was broken up in the early 1990s.

CBI has digitised copies of two large scrapbooks that were meticulously maintained by Bill Norris (or his secretary) - some 550 page of mostly newspaper cuttings that related to the corporation or him personally,  leaving us with a TreasureTrove of the history of Control Data.

August, 2017 is the sixtieth anniversary of the incorporation of CDC, the scrapbooks show documents filed with Minnesota authorities less than a week after Bill Norris resigned as vice-president of the Sperry Rand Univac Division in St. Paul.

The pages are in the sequence compiled - dates jump around a little, possibly because an article was picked up some little time after it was printed. There are also a few that don’t immediately seem to have connection to the Corporation - perhaps Bill or his assistant “just thought it was a good idea at the time”.

Obviously I’m not going to spend the next ten years transcribing stuff that nobody ever reads; instead an index to the two volumes - the links take you to the “index” page - the scanned images display thru an image viewer and are not directly accessible via a link.

One of the most fascinating early parts of the first volume is the prospectus for the issue of Control Data Corporation shares in early August, 1957 - 600,000 shares at $1, but don’t ring your broker just yet!

For legal reasons, they were only available to residents of Minnesota, but regardless, the issue was completed within two weeks with around 3,000 holders taking up shares.  

Norris took up 70,000 of the issue and his gamble certainly paid off - by August, 1963, just six years after the float, the original shares were worth around $255, leaving Norris with a paper profit of a little under $US18 million.

“Paper profit” is the key term - it was pointed out by market analysts at the time that CDC had never returned a dividend to stockholders and that at the peak price, the company was valued at 111 times its’ most recent net earnings.

The shares were then selling at around $85 after a three-for-one split in 1961 - IBM peaked at $443, with the company valued at 55 times net earnings, and paid a modest dividend of $4 per share, less than one percent return, but hey, a cheque in the mail is a check in the U.S. Mail!


VOLUME 2 (from November, 2017

Kicks off 8 January, 1962 with announcement of the trial date for the Sperry Rand action against CDC, also a photo of the new plant, although I’ve yet to sight any press on the opening.

The January, 2018 release covers the last two sections of the scrapbooks - detailed entries continue up to around July, 1968 with plans announced for construction of the Northside plant, a project believed dear to Bill Norris’s heart as it included a substantial slum clearance in a depressed section of Minneapolis which had been plagued by racial problems.

The final entry, howver, jumps to December, 1968 with the announcement of CDC’s Anti-Trust claims against IBM which resulted in a massive legal battle of which we in Oz know little.