Patenting a Better Vacuum Tube as Semiconductors Emerge

After his disappointing improved-vacuum-tube invention (see below), Kates did not give up. He went on to make important contributions in coordinating traffic lights to ease traffic flows.

(p. A9) When he demonstrated a computer tic-tac-toe game called Bertie the Brain in 1950, Josef Kates thought he was on the verge of making a fortune. The game, introduced at the Canadian National Exhibition, featured streamlined vacuum tubes invented by the Austrian-born Dr. Kates, who came to Canada in the 1940s as a refugee from Nazism. He hoped the tubes would revolutionize computing.

His timing was off. The rise of semiconductors was about to render vacuum tubes obsolete as computer components. “I got the patent, but the patent was useless,” he said in an oral history. “Okay, so on goes the world.”

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Refugee Crunched Data to Unsnarl Traffic Jams.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 28, 2018): A9.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date July 27, 2018, and has the title “Josef Kates Found Ways to Unsnarl Traffic and Solve Business Problems With Computers.”)

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