Josef Kates

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Dr. Josef Kates (born in Vienna on May 5, 1921) is a Canadian engineer whose achievements include designing the first digital game-playing machine, and the world's first automated traffic signalling system.[1]


Born the fifth of six children in an Austrian-Jewish family, Josef Kates was the son of Baruch (Bernard) and Anna Katz (née Entenberg).[2] His parents ran a grocery store and an import-export business in Vienna.[3] Kates fled to Italy to escape the Nazis after the Anschluss in 1938 and then, in 1939, joined the rest of his family which had fled to England. Kates enlisted in the British Army but, before he could see service, he and other Germans and Austrians resident in Britain were interned as enemy aliens. Kates was deported to Canada where he remained interned for almost two years until he and most of his fellow Jewish internees were recognised by the government as "victims of Nazi aggression" and released. At the camps in New Brunswick and Quebec, Kates fished, worked as a lumberjack, knitted socks and successfully studied for his high school diploma through McGill University's high school matriculation program, placing first in Quebec's province-wide exams.[3] After his release in 1942, he moved to Toronto[1] where he met Lillian Kroch, marrying her in 1944.[3] They had four children: Louis, Naomi, Celina and Philip A.[4]

He was educated at Goethe-Realschule (Vienna: 1931-1938); McGill University (Montreal: 1941, junior and senior matriculation); University of Toronto (Toronto: 1944-1948, Honours in Mathematics and Physics; 1948-1949: M.A. in Applied Math; 1949-1951: Ph.D. in Physics).[4][5]

Kates started his career working for the Imperial Optical Company of Toronto in 1942, and was in charge of precision optics for Royal Canadian Navy equipment until he left in 1944.[1] He then spent time working for Rogers Vacuum Tube Company, (now Royal Philips Electronics), for the next 4 years in the development and manufacturing of radar and radio tubes.[4] This background gave him a solid foundation on which to pursue his work in 1948 at the University of Toronto, Computation Centre where he participated in the design and building of UTEC the first pilot model of a computer built in Canada. Dr. Kates also built the first digital game playing machine (Bertie the Brain) which was exhibited at the 1950 Canadian National Exhibition and which used a special electron tube of his own design, the Additron Tube.[5] He also designed Toronto's automated traffic signalling system in 1954 - the first in the world.[1][6]

He went on to found and become the President of KCS Ltd in Toronto between 1954 and 1966, which merged with the consulting arm of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. to become Kates, Peat, Marwick & Co. in Canada, with other corporations in the US and the UK, for which he acted as a co-managing partner.[1] He served as a computer consultant to numerous Canadian and American firms and organizations. He was involved in the creation of Setak Computer Services Corp. Ltd. (his last name spelled backwards) which was based in Toronto. It offered computer access and consulting based on Burroughs computers, e.g. the B5500. Setak hired Barry W. Ramer who later went on to found Barry W. Ramer & Partners Ltd. and Ramer Data Consulting Ltd. Management Consulting in Calgary Alberta. In 1974 he founded Josef Kates Associates Inc., for which he acted as president.[1]

In 1968, he was appointed to the Science Council of Canada, and served as its chairman from 1975 to 1978.[1][5][7][8] Other positions Kates has held include chairman, CEO and director of companies such as Teleride Sage Ltd. (1977–1996),[4] and IRD Teleride (1996–1997) followed until his retirement.

His wife, Lillian Kroch, died of cancer in 1993 after almost 50 years of marriage. In 1995, Kates married his second wife, Kay Hill.[3]


He was honoured many times in life, including:

  • Canadian Good Roads Association (now Transportation Association of Canada (1957: best paper)
  • University of Waterloo (Waterloo: 1979-85, Chancellor;[9] 1993: Chancellor Emeritus)[2]
  • LL.D. (Concordia University: 1981)[10]
  • Medal from the Engineering Institute of Canada (1970)
  • Julian Smith Medal (1977)
  • Engineering Institute of Canada (1990: Fellow)
  • Canadian Association of Management Consultants (1994: Fellow)
  • Doctor of Mathematics (DMath) (University of Waterloo) (2005)
  • Member of the Order of Canada (2011)[11]


He retained membership in the following organizations

Intelligent Transportation stems association of Canada Lifetime achievement Award, May 2013


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Engelmann, Frederick C. (1996) A History of the Austrian Migration to Canada, Carleton University Press, ISBN 978-0-88629-283-6, p. 184
  2. ^ a b c Lumley, Elizabeth (2004) Canadian Who's Who 2004: v. 39, University of Toronto Press, ISBN 978-0-8020-8892-5, p. 669
  3. ^ a b c d "Computer pioneer named to Order of Canada". North York Mirror. September 30, 2011. Retrieved May 23, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Holmes, Gillian (ed.) (2001) Who's Who in Canadian Business 2001, University of Toronto Press, ISBN 978-0-920966-60-0, p. 421-2
  5. ^ a b c Simmons, Marlene (1975) "Bertie the Brain Programmer Heads Science Council", Ottawa Citizen, October 8, 1975, retrieved 2010-10-31
  6. ^ McLean, James W. (1966) "The Phony Ogre of Automation", Montreal Gazette, February 26, 1966, retrieved 2010-10-31
  7. ^ "Ottawa Needs to be Positive for Industry to Compete: Kates", Montreal Gazette, June 9, 1978, retrieved 2010-10-31
  8. ^ Cohen, Bob (1978) "Economic Summit a very vital meeting", Windsor Star, February 11, 1978, retrieved 2010-10-31
  9. ^ "Benefits of Computers Cited", Leader-Post, January 18, 1982, retrieved 2010-10-31
  10. ^ "Honorary Degree Citation - Josef Kates | Concordia University Archives". Retrieved 2016-04-11. 
  11. ^ "Appointments to the Order of Canada". June 30, 2011. 
Academic offices
Preceded by
Carl Arthur Pollock
Chancellor of the University of Waterloo
Succeeded by
J. Page Wadsworth