The first computers in ESB

In 1961 ESB installed an IBM 650 computer, the first of its kind in Ireland, to provide a more efficient customer billing system. Previously a punch card system was in operation since 1932 in the Accounts Department.

IBM 650-ESBJ-1961_1

Final consignment of the first IBM computers for ESB arriving in Dublin Airport, 1960

ESB made history on 17th June 1964 when Ireland’s largest computer installation, the IBM 1401 went into operation.  Computers were a great novelty when they first arrived to ESB Head Office and made significant changes in the ways of working for all accountancy staff and provided an enhanced service to ESB customers.  The new systems handled over 17,000 electricity accounts, involving up to 150,000 individual calculations every working day. Computerisation also provided instant access to statistical analysis, sales and accounting figures.

Each consumer was represented by a number of cards which contained information regarding a consumer’s electricity usage, hire purchase transactions and repairs. The IBM computers had the ability to read consumers electronic cards at the rate of 800 a minute and printed 600 lines a minute onto each bill.

Mary O'Brien, Accounts Department, ESB with Chairman of IBM Mr. McMorrow and Mr. Girault, Managing Director, IBM Ireland.

Mary O’Brien, Accounts Department, ESB with Chairman of IBM Mr. McMorrow and Mr. Girault, Managing Director, IBM Ireland.

Speaking at the switching on ceremony, ESB Chairman, Thomas Murray noted:

‘Whilst the computer has ended to become, to some extent, a status symbol –  a sort of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses at an industrial level…we in E.S.B. are satisfied that the expenditure involved is fully justified on economic grounds. It helps us to achieve our ever-present objectives – to keep the cost of electricity to the consumer as low as possible’.

Also at the launch was the Managing Director of IBM Ireland Limited, Raymond A. Girault who noted that just seven years previously there was not a single computer operating in Ireland. At the time that ESB introduced the largest computer installation, there were just twenty computers operating in Ireland. In his closing remarks Girault stated:

As to the fear some people have concerning machine domination of the world, there is no danger because man always controls and directs the machines unless he can in time create a machine that will think and work as he does’.


Click here for more detailed information on the operations of the accounts department and how the first computers changed the working lives of many ESB staff.

Click here to read more about the IBM 650 installation at ESB on the Tech Archives website.

Click here to view our gallery of 1980s ESB computers.


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