Austrian-born telecoms pioneer whose work helped connect Ireland

Obituary: Otto Glaser

Otto Glaser (1926-2017)

Otto Glaser, who died earlier this year, was a visionary of the telecommunications industry who showed that with hard work, persistence and ingenuity, Ireland could design and produce equipment to match and surpass that of more developed countries.

That this began in the early 1950s places him alongside modernisers such as Ken Whitaker whose first programme for economic expansion in 1958, and Patrick Hillery whose foresight as education minister the following decade set the scene for the industrial development which has characterised the past 50 years,

Otto George Paul Glaser was born in 1926 in Vienna. In 1938, Austria was annexed by Germany in the Anschluss. Otto's father – also Otto – had been a minister in the government which Hitler had overthrown. The parents hastily made plans to send their only son to safety. Otto senior was subsequently arrested and sent to Dachau concentration camp as a political prisoner. He was fortunate to survive. With the support of an underground Catholic network to which his devout mother Anna belonged, Otto junior made his way to Blackrock College in Dublin and enrolled as a boarder in July 1939.

Blackrock College

Glaser was 12 when he arrived in Dublin and had only few words in English but he had studied Latin in the Real-Gymnasium XIV in Vienna, and initially he spoke Latin to the priests in Blackrock.


He remained there until 1943 when he won a scholarship to University College Dublin, graduating in 1946 with a science degree, adding a master's the following year. Contemporaries at UCD included two future taoisigh, Garret FitzGerald and Charles Haughey, and Glaser enjoyed the cut and thrust of debates at the literary and historical society. He then returned to Vienna and was awarded a doctorate there in 1949.

Glaser then joined the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, designing and installing radio navigational aids for Dublin airport and the much larger traffic control centre at Shannon airport. By 1951, he had decided that more interesting developments were happening in the private sector and he joined a small research-manufacturing company, Technico in Dublin, which imported and installed telecommunications systems. Technico developed a private automatic branch exchange for businesses. A 1950s installation for the ESB was a remarkable breakthrough, using its electricity distribution network to carry calls to its premises all over the country at a time when the alternative was calls connected manually by one or more operators.

Telephone exchanges

Technico won contracts to equip half the new telephone exchanges and switching equipment for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, thereby breaking the state monopoly on such equipment. Its design to link 14 phone exchanges around Mullingar in 1957 was said to be the first of its kind in Ireland or Britain.

In 1952 Glaser married Patricia Delamer from Dublin, who he met at UCD. Her father Col William Percy Delamer was a first World War pilot and a pioneer of Irish aviation. They had one child, Peter Nicholas Glaser born in November 1954, and who did not survive infancy.

Glaser’s brother-in-law Peter Delamer became his business partner. A separate company was formed to exploit the rapid expansion demand for telecommunications equipment. In its heyday, Telectron had two plants in the growing suburb of Tallaght, employing 500 people, and 300 more at plants in Gweedore in Co Donegal and on the Aran Islands. Thus Glaser fulfilled his dream of factories where you could see cows outside the windows.

The problem was that in international telecommunications terms, Telectron was a minnow and it needed heavy investment and international linkages and French telecoms giant Alcatel took over the manufacturing of the Alcatel exchange in Ireland, by agreement. Around the same time, an American company, AT&T, bought Telectron. It shut the Tallaght plant in May 1983, telling the minister for industry and energy John Bruton that it had lost £10 million in the three years up to 1982. Though Glaser and Delamer were no longer involved in running Telectron, they were devastated. So were the 500 former employees, in an area which was still reeling after the loss of Urney Chocolates, once the largest chocolate factory in Europe.

Glaser remained active in the telecoms industry as chairman of Technico with Delamer as managing director. Glaser was also chairman of Alcatel Ireland. He became a director of Coras Trachtála and of Dublin City University, and a board member of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

In the 1970s, Glaser's father, then a widower, left Austria to live with his son and daughter-in-law at their home on the Howth peninsula. Howth was to be the focus for another abiding passion, where his team-leading prowess came to the fore. He was a keen and competitive sailor and is best known for his handsomely finished series of yachts called Tritsch-Tratsch, a German phrase for chit chat, the name wryly acknowledging the lengthy discussions which preceded every decision on board.

A contented man, he told his doctor how pleased he was to have survived to enjoy his 90th birthday last year. His wife Patricia, to whom he was very attentive in her fading years, died on March 2nd, 2017, having outlived him by just a month.