Bertie the Brain - Danny Kaye

First Computer Game Was 1950’s Bertie The Brain?

It of course depends on how you look at it, friends. However in 1950 Bertie the Brain made a splash at the Canadian National Exhibition. It has been said that awestruck visitors were lining up to challenge Bertie the Brain, matching wits with the computer in a simple game of tic-tac-toe. In fact that image you see at the top of the post? That happens to be none other than Danny Kaye (White Christmas) quite pleased he has bested Bertie the Brain!

How did Bertie come to be? That is thanks to an Austrian-Canadian immigrant named Josef Kates. The ‘first’ computer game came about thanks to another invention of Dr. Kates. The Rogers 6047 Additron tube!

Bertie the Brain - Dr. Josef Kates - Spacing Toronto

Image courtesy of Spacing Toronto.

Named so because Dr. Kates was working at Rogers Majestic. While at the same time I should add building one of the first computers in the world for the University of Toronto. The Additron tube was an electron tube that acted as a full binary adder. Which was of course Dr. Kates’ way of minimizing the amount of tubes and equipment needed in a computer. If you want your mind blown, I beg you to watch this video from Uniservo!

Sadly while patented in 1951, the Additron was never put into full production. As an old time radio enthusiast I obviously love the look of Vacuum tubes. Which is probably why I am so enamored by the look of Bertie the Brain. Rogers Majestic wanted Dr. Kates to build something that would show off the Additron tubes power, which is how the world was introduced to the tic-tac-toe playing computer.
Bertie the Brain - Computer

The fact that Bertie the Brain used lights on it’s display instead of graphics. This of course has sparked discussion on if it can be considered a video game. Hence why most folks will admit it was at the very least one of the earliest computer games. Bertie measured a whopping 13 feet or 4 meters tall and possessed a keyboard. As well as allowing Dr. Kates to adjust the difficulty of the game on the fly.
Bertie the Brain - Dr. Josef Kates

What ever became of Bertie the Brain though? After it’s two week presentation at the Canadian National Exhibition it was dismantled and stored away. As a matter of fact there is a wonderful article from back in 2016 on the Popular Mechanics site. It goes into far more detail and is worth your time to read!

Here is a short video from Mitten Squad, in which the early history of electronic gaming is discussed. Including a segment on Bertie the Brain of course!

VicSage

Editor at Retroist
Searching through the alleys for useful knowledge in the city of Nostalgia. Huge cinema fanatic and sometimes carrier of the flame for the weirding ways of 80s gaming, toys, and television. When his wife lets him he is quite happy sitting in the corner eating buckets of beef jerky.

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