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Lockport, Illinois

b. 1936

Getting started

Bob Cleary (my friend from high school) and I spent four years---from 1964 to 1968---designing and building the three-manual electronic organ for the First Congregational Church in Lockport. At that time we assumed that we were launching an organ-building business and that this organ would be the first of many. But by the time the project was officially finished near the end of 1968, we were tired of building organs and didn't pursue that idea any further. (Building that one organ did turn out to be a successful project since the organ has been used since Easter Sunday, 1966, which is more than 43 years.)

In the spring of 1969 I left Argonne and went to work at what was then called the National Accelerator Laboratory (NAL). I was in the "Booster Accelerator" division and Lowell Klaisner was my boss. NAL, which was then a start-up national laboratory, had acquired land for the mile-across proton accelerator. That land included a small town, Weston (IL), and our group occupied one of the houses in that town. Our responsibility was computer control of the booster accelerator.

In the fall of 1969, Klaisner and I attended the Nuclear Science Symposium in San Francisco. We had been looking at ways for doing real-time computer control of the Booster, and in San Francisco we discovered CAMAC. "CAMAC," an acronym for Computer Aided Measurement And Control, was a standardized method for computer control newly developed by the European "ESONE" committee, a group of European physicists.

Klaisner quickly understood that the ESONE group had solved our problem, and we became committed to CAMAC. We tried to purchase CAMAC equipment, called "crates" and "modules," from several European companies that were advertising their CAMAC product lines. However, delivery was slow (at best) and soon we were developing our own modules. By mid 1970, we had designed so many CAMAC modules for our real-world application that we became quite expert at it. One day one of us said, "You know, we should start a company and sell this kind of stuff." We saw that CAMAC was being accepted by physics laboratories around the world and we had a lot of product ideas in our heads along with the knowledge behind the many modules already operating at NAL.

KineticSystems was incorporated on December 1, 1970. We met at the office of Joliet lawyer, Joe Fitzgerald, on that Saturday morning and did the things required to start a corporation in Illinois. When we were done, Fitzgerald said the next thing was to get a "chart of accounts" and suggested that we contact Bob Thornton who, like Fitzgerald, was a graduate of the University of Illinois. Thornton, a Joliet CPA, not only created our first chart of accounts but also subsequently invested in the company and served on the Board of Directors for many years.

The three incorporators were Lowell Klaisner, Bob Cleary and me. The Company was authorized to issue 1 million shares of common stock. The stock was given a par value of $1, and the incorporators each received 33,000 shares, which represented the value we placed on the expertise we brought to the company.

"KineticSystems Corporation," a name suggested by Lowell Klaisner, was the sixth one submitted to the state of Illinois for approval. The state had rejected names like "International Data" and "Standard Interface" which were already taken. I didnít like the "KineticSystems" name because Kinetic was our dog's name. But the state approved it and that was that.

bowling scoring brochure cover
Bowling Scoring Brochure, cover
bowling scoring brochure p. 1
Bowling Scoring Brochure, page 1
bowling scoring brochure p. 2
Bowling Scoring Brochure, page 2

We needed capital, and in the winter of '71 I hosted several dog-and-pony shows in my living room for potential investors. We offered stock in KineticSystems at $1 per share and talked about two product lines: CAMAC interface modules and automatic bowling scoring (ABS). The audiences understood bowling scoring talk better than interface modules, so we focused more on ABS. I was awestruck when, after one such meeting, Ralph Larsen said that he was in for $10,000. Wally Smith, Dane Walker and Strike Ďn Spare Bowling Lanes together contributed a similar amount. Several additional shareholders bought in at lesser amounts and soon we had $35,000 in the bank, which we figured was enough capital to move ahead.

There was general agreement at this time among the founders that I would be the first employee, which meant quitting my job at NAL (now called Fermilab). I had three small children and a new house mortgage, which is why such big changes in life often need both a push and a pull.

The pull came from the desire to start and operate a company before I was 35, and I was now at 34 years and 9 months.

The push developed from growing frustration with my current job at Fermilab. Lowell and I had decided to use CAMAC to implement computer control of the booster accelerator. A directive came down from the Fermilab directorís office that the various groups should standardize on the means for interfacing computers to the various parts of the accelerator. There were six different groups doing it six different ways and the discussion soon developed into CAMAC against the other five. I represented the CAMAC way and it became a daily battle. With a new company beginning to take shape, I had the option to quit and I took it. Soon after that, the Lab Director himself decided that the lab would standardize on CAMAC, as did government labs all over the world. We had an almost instant worldwide market for our products.

There are a lot of things you need to start a risky venture. Among them are push, pull, timing, capital and catalyst. Itís also good to have a vision and to do planning.

My brother-in-law, Jim Scott, was instrumental in helping promote the automatic bowling idea. He immediately caught the vision, and his enthusiasm and drive were the catalysts that secured the bowling-alley investment and support. Since the bowling-scoring idea was such a turn-on for early investors, the company may well have not gotten off the ground without Jim Scott's energies at that time.

There's a story I like to tell:   Jim Scott was married to my wife's sister, Sandy. They had attended the University of Illinois and met at the 1964 Rose Bowl. Illinois played the University of Washington that year and the Illini smashed the Huskies 17 - 7. The Illini, however, had been anything but a shoo-in to get to the Pasadena game. In fact, they would not have been selected if they had lost one more game. There were several close games that year that the Illini won by a touchdown or less. A different outcome of a single play could have produced a loss rather than a win with the result: no trip to the Rose Bowl, no Jim Scott as a brother-in-law, no KineticSystems.

So in that winter of 1971 we had a vision, a company and some money in the bank. We also had a Board of Directors consisting of Bob Cleary, Lowell Klaisner, Jim Scott, Wally Smith and Jim Stephenson. Members soon to be added were investors Ralph Larsen, Bill Rutter and Bob Thornton. What was needed next were products to sell and actually deliver along with employees to pull it off.

Note:   "'Dog-and-pony show' means any type of presentation or display that is somewhat pathetically contrived or overly intricate, put on for purposes of gaining approval for a program, policy, etc. It is often used in business to describe a period immediately prior to the initial offering of a stock issue when the company's management travels extensively around the country to personally present their business to potential investors and thus attempt to create interest in purchasing shares of the new company."   Wikipedia