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Oops. NC needs to delete ctrl+alt+delete from list of state’s inventions

David Bradley invented the ctrl+alt+del reboot command while at IBM. But he did it in Florida, not North Carolina.
David Bradley invented the ctrl+alt+del reboot command while at IBM. But he did it in Florida, not North Carolina. N&O file photo

North Carolina came up with a long list of accomplishments as part of its pitch to Amazon to lure the company’s second headquarters. But one of those “firsts” requires a big asterisk, at least.

Turns out the iconic computer reboot command ctrl+alt+delete wasn’t invented in Research Triangle Park as the state advertised. But its inventor did move to RTP about 15 years later, if that counts.

The boast over ownership of the “three-fingered salute” was plastered on the sides of Seattle buses along with other firsts late last year in hopes of getting Amazon’s attention. The campaign was put together by the Charlotte firm, Mythic, the N.C. Department of Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership of N.C.

A recent News & Observer story about the campaign caught the attention of a former co-worker, who contacted The N&O over the weekend to say the command was invented in Boca Raton, Fla., where a small team had developed the personal computer for IBM in 1981.

The inventor, David Bradley, is well-known in computer history for his pioneering role as well as for his ctrl+alt+del invention, which he says was a solution to a problem that took about five minutes to figure out.

Bradley followed IBM to RTP in the mid-1990s, where he worked until he retired in 2004. He also taught at N.C. State University.

Reached by email on Monday, Bradley confirmed he invented the command in 1981 in Boca Raton. He was good-natured about the misplaced credit while he threw in a dig at another of North Carolina’s firsts.

“But if NC is going to claim First in Flight (I grew up in Ohio) they can’t likewise claim C-A-D,” Bradley replied in an email, referring to the acronym for the command.

Bradley and his wife now split their time between Boca Raton, Chapel Hill where their daughter and her family live, and traveling.

The mistake has been repeated in numerous online and print publications over the years, either through outright error or implication. It was also included on RTP’s website in a section about the park’s history.

The promotional campaign ended in December.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO

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