Thomas K. McGourty: a key figure in Commodore’s early history

Prior to joining Commodore

Thomas K. McGourty in uniform

Thomas K. McGourty in uniform

Thomas McGourty was a World War II veteran who has the distinction of having been the youngest Master Sergeant in WWII. He was in charge of the motor pool in the US 8th Army air corps.

Prior to WWII McGourty worked for National Cash Register as a repairman in New York City. After the war, he started an office equipment repair shop in Jamaica NY, then moved to Patchogue, NY. Office equipment was very difficult to obtain at that time so Mr. McGourty became a dealer for General adding machines which was a second tier product. Although fairly well built, the adding machine had a design problem which caused adding errors. Mr. McGourty bought a half dozen of the machines and figured out a way to fix them in his shop. He did a pretty good business selling the machines, and when the General salesman Marty Rogg called again, he was floored when he found that McGourty was ordering more machines to sell, not returning defective ones he couldn’t sell. Marty asked Mr. McGourty if he would consider going to Connecticut to fix the machines at the General-Gilbert factory assembly line. In 1955, Mr. McGourty agreed, and for the next couple of years commuted to Winstead Connecticut to manage the manufacturing line.
Mr. McGourty rose quickly through the ranks at General-Gilbert. In May, 1960 he was promoted from Technical Director, Adding Machine Division to Assistant Vice President. In March, 1961 he was placed in charge of all production at the Winsted plant. In September, 1962 Mr. McGourty was promoted to the role of Vice President and General Manager at which point he moved his family to Connecticut. It was during this time that he learned about managing a large manufacturing line and through a company training program, he was introduced to the work of theorists such as Deming, Taylor and Mayo.
Mr. McGourty resigned from General-Gilbert in May, 1963 after eight years with the company.

Time with Commodore

Shannon, Ireland, 1963

In 1963 Mr. McGourty began working for Commodore at the Commodore Industries, Ltd plant in Shannon, Ireland as the President and General Manager. Mr. McGourty’s wife and children moved to Ireland in February, 1964 to join him. The Commodore Industries plant in Ireland assembled and manufactured adding machines, primarily for the Commonwealth Market.

The Tramiel family visiting the McGourty family in Shannon, Ireland in 1964

 

West Germany, 1965

National Post, May 29, 1965, Page 26

News article from the National Post (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) 29 May 1965, Sat • Page 26. Thomas McGourty promoted to VP Manufacturing of Commodore.

In May 1965, McGourty was promoted to the role of Vice-President, Manufacturing for Commodore Business Machines (Canada), Ltd and was listed as an officer of the company. It was around this time that McGourty’s manufacturing expertise was needed at the Willy Feiler Zahl-Und Rechenwerke GMBH plant in West Germany. McGourty and his family moved from Ireland to West Germany.

United States, Norfolk Connecticut, 1966 – 1967

When Commodore sold the Willy Feiler plant in 1966, McGourty and his family moved back to Norfolk, Connecticut. With Commodore no longer having the means to manufacture their own adding machines, finding an OEM supplier was paramount. It was during this year that Commodore and Ricoh came to an OEM agreement and the model 201 adding machine was released to market.
The model 201 was sold as both a Ricoh product and a Commodore product with the only difference being the branding badge. The model 202 was an exclusive Commodore product also manufactured by Ricoh in Japan, with the case having been designed by Thomas McGourty; a design for which he was awarded US Design Patent 212,979 on December 17, 1968.

United States, Aptos California, 1967

Because of the close OEM relationship Commodore developed with Ricoh in Japan, Thomas McGourty’s business trips to Japan became increasingly frequent. In 1967, the McGourty family moved to Aptos, California such that the frequent travel to Japan would be less onerous. Commodore announced in their 1968 annual report to shareholders that “Commodore’s research and development division, previously located in Norfolk, Connecticut, was moved to a new location in Aptos, California.” Commodore’s entire R&D department at the time was Thomas McGourty. A parcel of land on Cox Road in Aptos California served as both the personal residence of the McGourty family and Commodore’s R&D department.

Commodore-Ricoh headquarters tour in Japan, 1968

 

Time Research and Development Corporation, 1969

In January, 1969 Commodore and Ricoh formed a new company named Time Research and Development Corporation as a joint venture to manage all research and development for Commodore. This joint venture occupied the existing facilities on Cox Road in Aptos California, which resulted in several Ricoh engineers from Japan moving to the Aptos location including some who brought their families with them. Commodore’s total investment was $108,000 for a 50% equity share in the new company.  Time Research and Development was dissolved in 1972.

Commodore Educational Systems Ltd, 1971

Excerpt from Commodore's 1972 annual report

Jack Tramiel announcing the creation of Commodore Educational Systems in the 1972 annual report to shareholders.

Commodore Educational Systems Ltd was formed as a Bahamian corporation to develop, manufacture and sell educational devices and materials. Initial development costs for this entity were $41,490.  The device Commodore put to market was invented by Thomas McGourty and the prototype was built by McGourty and his son Larry.  Thomas McGourty was awarded US Patent #3,707,778 for his design.

As recalled by Thomas’ son Larry who assisted his father in building the prototype:
“I remember the teaching machine well, Dad and I built the prototype I guess it was the summer before my senior year at Notre Dame. I remember making the slider mechanism, it was all done by hand and the vane parts were very thin .05” hardened blue spring steel cut to a 1/1000 inch tolerance.
We originally tried to make a cursor selector with a sensor that picked up signals from an electronic wire matrix much like a keyboard, but at the time it was beyond my electronic engineering capability and I did not have Ricoh available to work out the details. So, for the prototype I made a spring loaded clear plastic touch screen with contacts on the corners. It was limited to 4 corners, but pressing on the plastic sheet broke the contact and triggered the vane relay mechanism which was programmed from one channel of the stereo cassette player. The other channel carried the audio instruction. I think Ricoh went back to a slider switch and cursor. Too bad, we had the basic idea of touch screen.
The reason the patent is not a Commodore patent is because it was a skunk work project outside of Commodore, Jack and Bernie Hurtig were using Commodore to fund the development, but were going to set up a separate company to sell it.” – Larry McGourty, 2020
By 1973, Mr. McGourty saw that Commodore was moving toward electronics and retreating from the electro-mechanical device market.  He wasn’t particularly interested in this and wanted to pursue more entrepreneurial ventures so he left Commodore around this time.
Excerpt from Commodore's 1976 annual report

Excerpt from Commodore’s 1976 annual report to shareholders.

Commodore Educational Systems Ltd was consistently unprofitable and Commodore finally pulled the plug in 1976 or 1977.

Post-Commodore events

Much like he had done his entire life, Thomas McGourty continued with his brilliant gift for invention, and secured additional patents while working for Varitronic Systems, Inc., Insignia Systems, Inc. and Alcea Corporation.

Thomas K. McGourty passed away in the year 2005.

Credit:

The McGourty family was incredibly generous with their time in helping me to prepare this mini-biography of Thomas McGourty.  In particular, Thomas’ son Kevin met with me for a lengthy interview and scanned all the family pictures I’ve provided here.

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2 Responses

  1. Stephen John McGourty says:

    He is my Uncle have always been very proud of him and the family. Most kind Man a ever knew. Super Smart!

  2. Patrick McCuiston says:

    Proud of the McGourty Family. Thomas McGourty is my Mothers Uncle. Her Father Patrick McGourty is also a WWII Vet. I am named after Patrick McGourty.

    Patrick McCuiston

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