Volker-Craig Ltd. was a Canadian manufacturer of video terminals, founded in 1973 by two University of Waterloo graduates, Michael C. Volker and Ronald G. Craig.1 They were early arrivals among dedicated makers of terminals. TeleVideo wasn’t founded until 1975, and Wyse Technology didn’t appear until 1981. Volker-Craig’s early designs, like the VC303 and VC404, were TTL-based. The first microprocessor had gone into production in 1971, but most terminals didn’t have (or need) microprocessors until the late 1970s.

The TTL models were later replaced with microprocessor designs that offered emulations of other manufacturer’s terminals in addition to VC’s own command set. The VC4404 “Chat” contained a 6502 and could emulate the Lear Siegler ADM-3A. However, the VC4404 had a feature that some people saw as a bug; the character cell containing the cursor alternated between showing the character and the cursor, which was especially annoying if the cursor was an underline.

Volker-Craig concentrated on exports to the rest of the world, rather than looking south to the United States, which accounted for about the world market for terminals by 1980. To accommodate other countries, they had to research features and preferences that would appeal. This meant providing keyboards and character sets other than just ASCII, which was unusual in the late 1970s, and also offering a variety of CRT phosphor colours, having established that Swedish customers preferred amber displays, while those in Switzerland opted for green.2

Another Waterloo company, Keynote, made a graphics board for the VC4404 that added Tektronix graphics3 capability. This board, at $600, was half the cost of the terminal it supplemented, which made a cheap graphics terminal.

As far as I can tell, Volker-Craig subcontracted production of the terminals out to local firms. Mott Manufacturing Ltd., now a laboratory furniture maker, made the terminals and Qupro Data Systems Ltd. (defunct) wrote the control firmware for the microprocessor-based terminals.

At the end of 1980, the company opened an American subsidiary in Rochester, New York. At the time, they had sales of $12 million in Canada and Europe, making them the world’s eighth largest maker of alphanumeric terminals.

In 1981, Volker-Craig was sold for around $250,000 in cash and $6.75 million in shares to Nabu Manufacturing Corporation, based in Ottawa. Michael Volker remained in charge of terminal manufacture and sales as Nabu vice-president. John B. Kelly's Nabu (Natural Access to Bidirectional Utilities) offered a primitive Internet-like service that distributed content and applications via cable in the early 1980s. Consumers bought a $1000 S-100 PC that booted a CP/M-compatible operating system over the cable. One of the board’s designers, Mike Slinn, still has some NABU games board development photos4 online!

In 1984 Nabu Manufacturing Corp. underwent a large restructuring operation, becoming Nabu Network Corp. to concentrate on its cable communications system. The terminal division was put up for sale the Volker-Craig name returned. Al Werenko, who had been involved with VC from the very earliest days, became president of Volker-Craig Technologies Ltd. During the two years of Nabu ownership, terminal sales had remained steady at about $7 million a year.

Volker-Craig Technologies then made some terminals that were compatible with DEC products. The VC-2100 emulated a VT102 and the VC-5220 was VT220-compatible. This latter model was certainly still available in 1986, costing $1195.5

I don’t know when Volker-Craig finally closed.

The University of Waterloo in Ontario has a rich history of innovation in computing and technology spin-offs, of which Volker-Craig was one of the first. The University remembered its alumni by buying lots of VC terminals! Today the area of Waterloo, Cambridge and Kitchener is known as Canada’s Technology Triangle.

How well did VC terminals sell in other countries? How many staff were there? When did they finally close? Photos of terminals? If you have anything to add, please email me.

Known Manuals (from Manx)

VC4404 Service Manual
VC4404 Schematics
1975 VC103, VC203, VC303 Service Manual
1982 NABU 3100 Users Manual
1983-08-03 NABU 3100 Service Manual (Preliminary)
93-000-00000-5 Rev. 3 1982-03-22 VC4404 The Chat Video Display Terminal User's Manual

Other Resources

  1. With his stake in the company having been bought out by Volker, Dr. Ronald Craig taught in the School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University from 1979 until his retirement in January 2013.
  2. Robert English, “Meeting Terminal Needs,” National Post (Ontario, Canada), 8 March 1980, p. S7.
  3. The Tektronix graphics protocol was the de facto standard of the time, although I suspect most people’s experience of it will have been on terminals other than those made by Tektronix. Digital Engineering, Inc. made “RetroGraphics” Tektronix-compatible boards for text terminals by Lear Siegler, TeleVideo, ADDS and DEC.
  4. One of Mike’s photos has the caption “We connected a VT100 to the serial port...”, but the terminal in the picture isn’t a VT100. Could it be a Volker-Craig?
  5. Message on newsgroup ont.general from a “P. Kern”, dated .