Heinz Nixdorf

by Mark Greenia


His Early Background

Heinz Nixdorf was born on April 9, 1925, in Paderborn, Germany. He was the oldest of five children and the son of Walter and Anne Nixdorf. In 1939, Heinz graduated from the elementary school with very good grades and attended school at Koblenz, where he prepared to become a teacher.

In 1941, the ministry of culture in Berlin, allowed him to attend the high school there. Nixdorf started at the Reismann-High School in Paderborn. Nixdorf was an extraordinarily talented student, with special skills in mathematics and natural sciences with exceptional abilities in analytical thinking. On several occasions, Nixdorf was allowed to skip over certain math classes because of his advanced ability.

In 1943, after his graduation from school, Nixdorf was drafted into government work then into the air force school in Ith, in Weserbergland. Nixdorf served in the war and spent time in Czechoslovakia.

In 1947, Nixdorf began his physical studies at the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe University in Frankfurt where he obtained a scholarship.

In 1948, Nixdorf got a job at the German sister corporation of American company Remington Rand Corporation. There he met Physicist Dr. Walter Sprick. A data processing expert, Sprick, ran the development laboratory of Remington Rand in Frankfurt-Rodelheim. The 42 year old physicist, was interested in automatic symbol identification of electronic adding machines, as well as computer technology. In 1949, Sprick had planned and built the first German electronic calculator for the Landesbrandkasse in Kiel.

After a few months the head of the firm stopped the project. Nixdorf suggested to Sprick to found their own company to build and sell the machines themselves. Sprick, however, wanted to work for IBM instead.

At IBM, Sprick made a career as an inventor and developer of electronic scanning machines. Sprick was referred to by IBM as the father of automatic text readers and he obtained two important patents.

Meanwhile, Nixdorf took the risk of freelancing alone. He travelled with his motorcycle through Nordhein-Westfalen and visited several corporations to present them with his concepts.

Nixdorf finally found an interest for his machines at the Rheinishe-Westfalsche Electrical Power Station (RWE), in Essen, the largest power supplier in Germany. The company gave Nixdorf a grant for 30,000 DM for the development of vacuum tube based calculators. Nixdorf also built counting machines which could be connected to punched card machines.

In July 1952, Nixdorf founded the "Labor fur Impulstechnik" (LFI). In September 1952, Nixdorf hired his first worker, the well educated radio and television technician Alfred Wiercoich. Their first successful product was an electronic calculator which was built on radio tube technology and used for bookkeeping at the RWE power plant. After a few years, Nixdorf sold his innovative products in Germany, and Europe, from German and French office machine producers. Nixdorf built the electronics for Bull, Wanderer and Exacta (Exacta 6000 Multitronic).

Nixdorf believed that the electronic calculating machine was not merely a product for the needs of the corporation but could have much more broad application in society.

Early Calculators and Computers

In 1953, Nixdorf developed the ES 12 and ES 24 electronic calculators. By 1954, the LFI had expanded to ten technicians.

In 1957, Nixdorf's company completed development of the Electronic Calculator EM 22, including all basic calculating functions. The EM 22 came on the market in 1960 in a transistorized version as the Gamma 172. Nixdorf obtained Wander Werker in Koln as a distributor for his products, the Wanderer Werker also managed the French company Bull, as well as their own office machine production. Wanderer Werker became Nixdorf's major customer for the next few years. In 1958, Nixdorf hired a development engineer. Prior to this, Nixdorf had developed all products himself.

During this same period, Nixdorf developed the electronic multiplication unit for the Exacta-Continental "Multitronic 6000" of which over 2,000 were sold. In 1960, his company worked on the development of the Gamma 172 and Gamma 322 computers. In 1962, they were involved in the development and world-wide marketing of desktop calculators with internal text printer (Wanderer Conti).

The Wanderer Logatronic (later called the Nixdorf Universal Computer 820) was presented at the Wanderer booth at the Hannover trade fair in 1965.

The Digitronic/Logitronic which was built on a component basis was the first small computer which was based on semiconductors. The Wanderer Werker, the Keinze-Apparate Gmbh in Villingen and the Ruf-ZBuchhaltung started to sell the Digitronic.

By the middle of 1970 there were more than 15,000 of the "Nixdorf 820" sold.

In April 1968, Nixdorf bought his biggest customer, the Wanderer Werke in Koln. The LFI took over the sales net and production facilities of Wanderer Werke. The price was 17.2 million DM.

In 1968, LFI became "Nixdorf Computer Inc." (NCAG) Heinz Nixdorf changed the headquarters from Koln to his home town in Paderborn.

His company went through various changes during the 1970's and 1980's and eventually became part of Siemens, and was called Siemens-Nixdorf Information Systems AG.


Siemens-Nixdorf corporation was formed in 1990 through the merger of the Data Information Division of Siemens with the Nixdorf Computer Company. Nixdorf was started in 1956 by Heinz Nixdorf. Their first products included equipment for accounting and census taking in Germany.

Nixdorf grew into $3.5 billion dollar computer company with over 25,000 employees internationally. Economic downtrends in the high tech industry in the 1980's prompted the move towards the merger with Siemens.

Siemens-Nixdorf ranked first in European suppliers of information technology products and services and ninth worldwide, with revenues of over $7 billion. Siemens-Nixdorf has corporate offices in Burlington, Massachusetts.

Information on the history of Dr. Heinz Nixdorf can be obtained from:

The Heinz Nixdorf Museum
Fuersternalle 4790
Paderborn, Germany

See also Klaus Kemper's book
"Heinz Nixdorf: Eine Deutsche Karriere."


Lexikon Services - "History of Computing: An Encyclopedia of the People and Machines that Made Computer History" (CD ROM) HistoryCD@aol.com

Published with permission of Lexicon Services.

French translation by Vicky Rotarova

Copyright LEXICON SERVICES - Feb 2005 - Revised - February 07, 2015.



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