BULL computers chronological history

The Italian cousin

Olivetti, a large office mechanical and electrical equipment located in Ivrea, in North-West Italy, embarks in the design of computers in the late 50s. It starts a cooperation with Bull, creating a joint-venture abandoned by Bull in 1962 and bought by General Electric. It operated as a division of GE, then of Honeywell until its take-over by Bull in the late 1980s. The relations between the French and the Italian operations were marked by a succession of love-hate intervals while, with only a few exceptions, the two companies sold common products .

In 1980, Saint-Gobain, at that time the prime shareholder of Bull, attempted a take-over of Olivetti, at the expense of  CII-HB's ambitions in the office business. This effort failed and Saint-Gobain remained a sleeping partner in Olivetti.

In the mid 1980s, Bull established a joint venture (SIAB)  with Olivetti, with manufacturing in Cassis, for designing and manufacturing banking teller equipments. Bull and Olivetti maintained separately their presence in the personal computer business that they both quit that market in the mid 1990s.

1949 establishment of Oliveti-Bull joint venture between  Compagnie des machines Bull and Olivetti to market Bull's card equipment in Italy 
1955 establishment under the impulse of Adriano Olivetti of an Electronic Research Laboratory in Pisa, in liaison with Pisa University under Mario Tchou.
1957 Development of a computer prototype (ELaboratore Elettronico Automatico) named IV at Barbaricina,  a suburb of Pisa. Technology was vacuum tubes.
end 1957 Modification of Elea IV by using transistors
1959 Introduction of Elea 9003, a transistorized business computer. It had a core memory of 20 to 160 KB and was using magnetic tapes. On that computer, up to 3 programs were able to run simultaneously. A key architect was Ettore Sottsass
circa 1960 Compagnie des Machines Bull and Olivetti 's  joint venture Olivetti-Bull markets Bull's computers noticeably Gamma 60 in Italy.
1963 Olivetti buys back Bull interests in Olivetti-Bull
31 Aug 1964 General Electric purchases Olivetti computer business that becomes Olivetti-General Electric, later named GE Information Systems Italia.
However, some engineers remain within Olivetti S.p.A. to develop office automation computers (Programma 101 in 1965)
1965 Introduction of Olivetti-General Electric GE-115 (born Elea 4001)
1970 GEISI is sold by General Electric to Honeywell. It will be known as HISI (Honeywell Information Systems Italia).
1974 Introduction of Series 60 Level 62 computer, running GCOS 62.
1979 Introduction of DPS4, a compatible upgrade of Level 62
1979 Denial by CII-HB of HISI proposal for an hybrid version of DPS-4 able to run GCOS4 or GCOS7.
CII-HB was then contemplating to develop Archer, a low-cost MOS machine, that will be finally introduced in ... 1986 as DPS-7000.
circa 1980 HISI develops for Honeywell a small member of DPS-6 product line
1982 HISI stops the development of DPS-4 and proprietary architectures and start to develop open systems for Honeywell, based on Motorola micro-processors.
1985 HISI is bought by Groupe Bull, as part as Honeywell assets.
circa 1988 Honeywell-Bull Italia engineering is integrated with French Systems division.
May 1989 Creation of Compuprint, a manufacturer of serial printers
1992 Italy engineering is responsible of hardware development of Pegasus a  multiprocessor PowerPC system developed in common with IBM Austin.
1996 Bull imposes drastic cuts in R&D and closes manufacturing in Italy.

The American operations

General Electric 1956-1970

n 1964, the GE Computer Department, with its headquarters in Phoenix AZ, was initiating the production of the GE-400 main product line and just decided to introduce a high end product line the GE-600
It will soon embark in the build-up of the MULTICS system, derived from the GE-600
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This chronology begins at the time of the entry of GE in the computer business.

1948 GE Electronics Laboratory in Syracuse wins an order for a USAF tube computer, named OARAC
December 1955 Homer R. (Barney) Oldfield from GE Microwave Laboratory at Stanford.CA is contacted by George Haller to analyze  a RFP from bank of America for an Electronic Method of Accounting (processing checks automatically)
august 1956 San Francisco's Bank of America contracts with GE the development of its ERMA accounting and check sorting system. GE decided to develop a general purpose system, and subcontract the check sorter to NCR.
September 1956 establishment of the Computer laboratory and plant in Phoenix AZ. lead by Homer R. Oldfield under Harold Strickland
Herb Grosch joins the Computer laboratory to establish a service bureau using an IBM 704 on Arizona State College premises.
1957 Creation of the GE Computer Department inside the Industrial Electronics Division
Jones & Laughlin orders a GE312, designed by Arnold Spielberg for process control
February 1958  delivery of first ERMA system, accepted at year end 1958
December 1958 Barney Oldfield is replaced by Clair Lasher as head of the Computer Department. Oldfield moved to Raytheon
1959 Decision to launch the GE-225 a 20-bits computer designed by Arnold Spielberg, announced later in the year.
1960 Introduction of ERMA computer under the name of GE-210. It will also be sold by NCR as NCR-204
1960 Decision to launch the Mosaic line, a family of four 24-bits computers. The lower models will be announced as GE-415, GE-425 and GE-435. They will be known as Compatible GE-400 series.
1962 start of design of GE-235, a faster version of GE-225
July 1962 first sales pitch by John Couleur of M2360 against the Y of Mosaic
13 February 1963 Harrison Van Aken is named head of Computer Department replacing Clair Lasher
1Q 1963 the Couleur's project is taken in consideration for the future GE-600 in lieu of Y in GE-400
8 April 1963 massive reorganization inside General Electric. Fred Borch replaces Ralph Cordiner as CEO, Hershner Cross becomes Group vice-president. Cross found necessary to build an international dimension for GE computers. The departure of Harold Strickland on conflicts with Cross followed.
1963  introduction of GE-215
September 1963  Spielberg leaves GE for IBM San Jose. Later he will join SDS.
February 1964 First shipment of Datanet-30 a data communications minicomputer
1964 First shipment of GE-400
march 1964 re-Hiring of Lou Rader from Univac as Industrial Electronics division. Rader will stay in Charlotteville and will focus on international affairs.
1964 Acquisition of Olivetti computers and of Compagnie des Machines Bull
1964 First Time-sharing operation at Dartmouth College  of the DTSS Dartmouth time-sharing system on a GE-265 (GE-225 + Datanet-30)
Jun 1964 Introduction of GE-600
Feb 1965 Availability of GE-635 prototype under EMBRIO operating system
1965 Disclosure of the order by MIT (for project MAC) of a derivative of GE-600, the GE-645. A new time-sharing software, MULTICS, started to be implemented by GE Cambridge laboratory (CISL), MIT and Bell Labs.
Nov 1965 Introduction of GECOS-II, a multi-programming system for the GE-600
January 1966 Departure of H Van Aken and replacement by Lou Wengert as general manager of Phoenix
august 1966 Transfer of Process Control Department in the  Industrial Process Control Division under Lou Rader The Information Systems Division remains under Herschner Cross, acting general manager
Nov 1966 Eugene R. White named manager of engineering of Computer Department replacing John Weil.
December 1966 Stanford Smith is selected as head of the Information Systems Group replacing Hershner Cross and reporting to the president of the company..  L
1967 The GE disk files projects (DS-15 and DSU-270) are cancelled. 
Departure of John Couleur
1967 Lou Wengert appointed general manager of ISED Phoenix.
1967  GE-600 encounters manufacturing problems , due to a change of components supplier. Sales of GE-600 are suspended world-wide.
1967 installation of GE-ISED peripheral plant in Oklahoma City
1967 Replacement of GECOS-II by GECOS-III, adding time-sharing subsystem (TSS)
1967 The GE-645 and GE-655 projects are transferred to Syracuse under Walker Dix
1968 Introduction of IDS (Integrated Data Store) data base on GE-600
IDS was developed in 1962 by Charles W Bachmann.
April 1968 John Haanstra from IBM joins GE as head of advanced planning
Dec 1968 Hilliard Paige is named head of Information Systems Group succeeding Stanford Smith
John Haanstra becomes Information Systems Equipment Division manager in Phoenix
1969 Introduction of GE-655 that will better known as H-6000 after 1970
July October 1969 Shangri-La planning meeting at Hollywood-by-the-sea FL, attempting to plan for a new Advanced Product Line
August 1969 John Haanstra dies in his private aircraft crash. John Burlingame from Syracuse, named in replacement.
February 1970 abandon of the APL project
May 1970 announcement of the cession of the world-wide GE computer business, except time-sharing to Honeywell
October 1971 closing of Syracuse Semiconductor department 


Bull-General Electric 1964-1970

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Two phases mark the relatively short period spent by Bull under General Electric.
The first phase, between the merger and 1967, has seen the fast adoption of the GE products by the sales network, the integration of the European sales force of Bull and of GE and the continuation of some Machines Bull projects under GE.

Oct 1964 Installation of first GE-400 in Bull, rue de la Boétie
Oct 1964 First Bull-GE layoff of 650p
12 Nov 1964 Formal take-over of Bull by General-Electric. Creation of Compagnie Bull-General Electric handling sales and Société Industrielle Bull-General Electric covering engineering and manufacturing.
Both companies share the same management. Compagnie des Machines Bull becomes a holding company.
Bull-GE absorbs the GE computer operations in continental Europe, except Italy handled by Olivetti-General Electric.
Henri Desbruères (ex-SNECMA) is named chairman (PDG), while Mr. Fancher is president (directeur général)
Nov 1964 Introduction of Gamma M40  for scientific and industrial markets
Dec 1964 First shipment of GE-400 in France
Dec 1964 Start of discussions with Olivetti-General-Electric to delineate the role of BGE and OGE to satisfy the low and medium computer markets. B-GE relinquishes its 5% of shares in Olivetti-Bull, allowing a total integration of Olivetti-GE
Manufacturing of GE-400 in Angers plant.
It remained in production until September 1971.
26 Feb 1965 Internal BGE announcement of GE-115, developed by OGE
24 Apr 1965 Second lay-off,
1965 First shipment of GE-635 to ASEA Sweden
This system had been ordered for scientific business prior the Bull-GE merger. ASEA was a General Electric licensee.
Oct 1965 First shipment of Gamma M40 (to Berliet, Lyon)
Nov 1965 First shipment of GE-600 to EDF
The order was eventually canceled in 1966 by EDF due to hardware and COBOL problems
1966 Introduction of Gamma-140.
Mar 1966 Introduction of GEADAC (General Electric Automatic Data Acquisition and Circulation system) a follow-on of Programmateur Numérique
1966 De la Rue-Bull, the UK distributor of Bull,  is taken over by GE. The stock is divided between GE direct 25%, BGE 50%. De la Rue keeps only 25%..
It will become in 1968 GEIS Ltd.
Jun 1966 Suspension of GE-600 sales in Bull-GE
No such formal announcement was made in the US, but sales were closely monitored at the highest level of the Division.
Oct 1966 Decision to cancel the Gamma 140.
The announcement triggered a wave of resignation in France sales network (triggering the creation of  the software house Sogeti) and  in engineering (fueling the CII engineering).
The Gamma 140 manufacturing license is sold to the Czechoslovakian company Tesla.

The second phase saw the full integration of Bull-GE as a part of GE computer division and the adoption of  the means and customs of an American company.

Dec 1966 Initiation of the "Charlie" project
This project marks the origin of GCOS64 and GCOS product line
Jul 1967 General Electric controls now 66% of shares of BGE and SIBGE
Oct 1967 William R Smart is named president of BGE and SIBGE replacing Mr. Fancher.
1967 First shipment of GE-55
it will remain in production until October 1971.
Jan 1968 Initiation of GE Advanced Product Line project (alias L-178) where BGE is in charge of the intermediary size processor (R-370) and a part of software.
1 Feb 1968 Creation of a Small Systems Division at Bull-GE
Mar 1969 First GE-600 operating under GECOS III at Crédit Lyonnais
Jul-Oct 1969 Shangri-La seminar held by GE Information Systems Division at Hollywood-by-the-Sea, FL
Sep 1969 Announcement of GE-58
Jan 1970 Pierre Davous leaves the direction of R&D at Medium Systems Bull-GE and is replaced by Marc Bourin
May 1970 Jean Pierre Brulé named president (Directeur général) of Bull-GE replacing William Smart
15 May 1970 Announcement of the acquisition of General Electric's computer activities by Honeywell

The acquisition of Olivetti and Compagnie des  Machines Bull by General Electric was seen by Americans as somewhat premature, needing a substantial amount of cash to acquire and to make profitable those foreign subsidiaries, when investments made by the American arm were opportunity driven and many products were not really competitive. For Europeans, it has been a significant opportunity to learn management techniques from General Electric and to face the problems to reach the state of the art.
Perhaps GE did not invest enough in U.S.A. to build a marketing force able to sell the systems it made and would have benefit to learn more from its European counterpart. 
Certainly, the qualities of GE techniques lead its upper management to believe that managers tought at Crotonville's school could run indifferently airplane engines, lighting lamps and computers businesses without being able to understand it. The lack of commitment to the computer market by GE was certainly one of the cause of its eventual failure.
However, GE recognizes a future in the computer service business, specially its time-sharing ventures in the 1960s and the 1970s. It remained present in that market after its divestiture from the manufacturing of computers, until the showdown of GENIE in the 1990s.



Revision : 23 janvier 2003.