Josef Kates

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Josef Kates
4th Chancellor of the University of Waterloo
In office
Preceded byCarl Pollock
Succeeded bySylvia Ostry
President/Vice ChancellorBurt Matthews (1979-1981)
Douglas T. Wright (1981-1985)
Personal details
Born(1921-05-05)May 5, 1921
Vienna, Austria
DiedJune 16, 2018(2018-06-16) (aged 97)
Toronto, Ontario
Alma materGoethe-Realschule
McGill University
University of Toronto

Josef Kates, born Josef Katz, (May 5, 1921 – June 16, 2018) was a Canadian engineer whose achievements include designing the first digital game-playing machine, and the world's first automated traffic signalling system.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

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.[4] 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.[5] At the camps in New Brunswick and Quebec, Kates fished, worked as a lumberjack, knitted socks and studied for his high school diploma through McGill University's high school matriculation program, placing first in Quebec's province-wide exams.[4] 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.[6]

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).[6][7]


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 four years in the development and manufacturing of radar and radio tubes.[6] He then began 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.

Kates also built the first digital game playing machine, the 13-foot tall Bertie the Brain, which was exhibited at the 1950 Canadian National Exhibition. The game was a version of Tic-tac-toe, with adjustable difficulty levels. The game machine controlled the lighting of an overhead display to show the progress of the game,[8] and was built using a special electron tube, the Additron Tube, which Kates had invented.[7][5] The Additron Tube did the work of ten existing radio tubes, reducing the size and complexity of the machine.[9] With the advent of transistors, which were much smaller and required less power, the tube was not put into commercial use.[10]

Kates also designed Toronto's automated traffic signalling system in 1954 - the first in the world.[1][11][10]

Kates founded and became 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 many 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's employee Barry W. Ramer 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][7][12][13] Kates was also chairman, CEO and director of Teleride Sage Ltd. (1977–1996),[6] and IRD Teleride (1996–1997) followed until his retirement.

In 2014, at the age of 93, Kates designed a proposed improvement for Toronto Transit Commission subway system.[14]

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] Kates died in Toronto on June 16, 2018.[5]


  • Canadian Good Roads Association (now Transportation Association of Canada (1957: best paper)
  • University of Waterloo (Waterloo: 1979-85, Chancellor;[15] 1993: Chancellor Emeritus)[2]
  • LL.D. (Concordia University: 1981)[16]
  • 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)[17]
  • Intelligent Transportation systems association of Canada Lifetime achievement Award, 2013


Further reading[edit]

  • Simone Gigliotti, Monica Tempian ed.: The young victims of the Nazi regime, ch. 2: Andrea Strutz, "Detour to Canada". The fate of juvenil Austrian-jewish refugees after the Anschluss of 1938. Bloomsbury, London 2016 (Interviews with Kates and 3 other persons)
  • Andrea Strutz: Effects of the cultural capital in careers of young Austrian refugees in Canada. A biographical approach to their life, in Klaus-Dieter Ertler, Patrick Imbert ed.: Cultural Challenges of Migration in Canada- Les défis culturels de la migration au Canada. Serie: Canadiana - Literaturen/Kulturen, Literatures/Cultures, vol. 12. Peter Lang, Berne 2013 ISBN 9783631626344 pp 175 – 193 (relying on interviews with Kates and Josef Eisinger)

See also[edit]


  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 "Computer pioneer named to Order of Canada". North York Mirror. September 30, 2011. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved May 23, 2014.
  4. ^ a b "Computer pioneer named to Order of Canada". Sep 30, 2011 by Lisa Queen, North York Mirror .
  5. ^ a b c "Josef Kates, 97, was a visionary scientist who believed computers ‘could do everything’". Susan Ferrier MacKay, The Globe and Mail, July 6, 2018.
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ a b c Simmons, Marlene (1975) "Bertie the Brain Programmer Heads Science Council", Ottawa Citizen, October 8, 1975, retrieved 2010-10-31
  8. ^ "The Ten Most Important Early Computer and Video Games" Archived 2020-11-21 at the Wayback Machine. US Gamer, by Jaz Rignall, March 23, 2017.
  9. ^ "Bertie the Brain Still Lives. The story of the world's first arcade game.". Popular Mechanics, By Matt Blitz, Nov 2, 2016
  10. ^ a b "Josef Kates Found Ways to Unsnarl Traffic and Solve Business Problems With Computers". James R. Hagerty, Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2018
  11. ^ McLean, James W. (1966) "The Phony Ogre of Automation", Montreal Gazette, February 26, 1966, retrieved 2010-10-31
  12. ^ "Ottawa Needs to be Positive for Industry to Compete: Kates", Montreal Gazette, June 9, 1978, retrieved 2010-10-31
  13. ^ Cohen, Bob (1978) "Economic Summit a very vital meeting", Windsor Star, February 11, 1978, retrieved 2010-10-31
  14. ^ "Big Ideas: Bring back Bay Lower Station to relieve Yonge-University line". By Laura KaneStaff, Toronto Star, March 31, 2014
  15. ^ "Benefits of Computers Cited", Leader-Post, January 18, 1982, retrieved 2010-10-31
  16. ^ "Honorary Degree Citation - Josef Kates | Concordia University Archives". Archived from the original on 2015-10-02. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  17. ^ "Appointments to the Order of Canada". June 30, 2011.
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