IBM at 100: Let the (Psycho) Analysis Begin
January 31, 2011 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Technically speaking, the Computing Tabulating Recording Company, or CTR, was founded on June 16, 1911, in Endicott, New York, and this is the centennial that Big Blue is arbitrarily celebrating. A credible case can be made for making 1996 IBM’s centennial year, since that was 100 years after Herman Hollerith, who invented a tabulating machine driven by punch cards, set up the Tabulating Machine Company. His machines were used to tabulate the results of the 1890 census in a year’s time, down from the eight years it took to dice and slice the results of the 1880 census.
CTR was a conglomerate of Hollerith’s tabulating machines plus time recording gadgets and meat scales. The IBM that we know today got its start when Thomas Watson Senior left National Cash Register under a cloud after being convicted of felony charges relating to dubious business practices against other makers of cash registers; he took a job at CTR, just down the road a few miles from where he grew up, as president of this new conglomerate, and Watson cleaned up his act considerably. (Well, if you ask IBM’s competitors from the 1930s through the 1970s, you might get a variety of spectrum of opinions on that.)
The IBM that we know did not really exist until 1924, when George Fairchild, the chairman at CTR, died, and Watson took over control of the company, which had gone public in 1916 on the New York Stock Exchange. On February 14, 1924, with Watson at the helm, the company adopted the name International Business Machines–and eventually ditched the meat scales (in 1933) and time card machines (in 1958) and focused on the tabulating equipment.
Without any question or doubt whatsoever, that focus by IBM helped forge the Information Age. Others may have been on the same track, but IBM, through its power and might, eventually set the standards, which begat many of the reactionary and open standards we use today in computing.
We’ll be analyzing IBM a lot during this centennial year, as will lots of others I am sure. Reflection is good for the mind and the long history of Big Blue is something worth spending some time mulling over.
IBM is starting off its own ruminations with a brief history of the 1401 mainframe, which you can see at the IBM at 100 site. Hopefully it will get around to an AS/400 retrospective and not just give the AIX systems all of the credit for the midrange. If IBM didn’t have good engineering with the System/3X and AS/400 machines, it would never have had the street cred to get into the Unix racket, much less get to dominate it as it did over a 20-year span.