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Harry Lobe Straus papers

1932-1990
 Collection
Accession: 2186

Abstract

Harry Lobe Straus (1896-1949) was an early computer engineer and developer of totalisator or "tote board," an electronic system that printed and issued betting tickets at racetracks, automatically computed the bets and odds, and displayed them on a large board. This collection is a small group of papers preserved by his personal secretary, Christine Behm Nunus (1906-1998). It includes financial statements, business letters, estate papers, and items relating to Straus's biography, "Win. Place. Show."

Dates

  • 1932-1990

Creator

Extent

1 Linear Feet

Biographical Note

Harry Lobe Straus (1896-1949) was an early computer engineer and developer of totalisator or "tote board." Straus was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 10, 1896, and graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1917. In 1924, he married Jeannette Eareckson (1900-1969).

Beginning in 1928, Straus developed the totalisator or "tote board," an electronic system that printed and issued betting tickets at racetracks, automatically computed the bets and odds, and displayed them on a large board. The first complete totalisator system was installed at Arlington Park in Chicago in 1933 and made possible modern, large-scale racetrack betting. Straus formed the American Totalisator Company to manufacture the system in 1932. Through his involvement with racing, Straus also became a horse breeder at his Cherry Hill Farm near Reisterstown, Maryland, and an investor in several racetracks.

After World War II, Straus was quick to recognize the digital computer's potential and in 1948 became the major financial backer of J. Presper Eckert (1919-1995) and John W. Mauchly (1907-1980), inventors of the UNIVAC. Less than a year later, on October 25, 1949, Straus was killed in the crash of a private plane near Perryville, Maryland. Deprived of his money and marketing savvy, Eckert and Mauchly were obliged to sell their company to Remington-Rand in 1950. Likewise, American Totalisator remained a small specialty company instead of evolving into a computer giant and was sold to Universal Products Company in 1956.

Scope and Contents

The Harry Lobe Straus papers are a small group of fragments preserved by his personal secretary, Christine Behm Nunus (1906-1998), after his death. The papers include the American Totalisator Company Inc.'s financial statements from 1932 to 1954, plus an abstract of its outstanding contracts with racetracks from circa 1938. There are also a few of Straus's business letters, a personal receipts and disbursements ledger from 1947 to 1949, some light verse, and estate papers, as well as some modern letters and notes regarding the production of John C. Schmidt's biography of Straus, "Win. Place. Show." There are some financial statements of several racetracks in which Straus was interested and some correspondence regarding a controversy over ownership of the Coral Racing Association of Coral Gables, Florida.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Harry Lobe Straus papers
Status:
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Revision Statements

  • 2021: Ashley Williams

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400