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Gallery: IBM: 100 years of THINKing big

IBM used its motto "Think" wisely - as it celebrates a century of spectacular achievements in technology
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On June 16, 1911, the Tabulating Machine Company, Computing Scale Company of America and International Time Recording Company merged to form the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company later known as IBM. Its technologies included industrial time clocks, electronic tabulating machines, and commercial scales.

One hundred years later, International Business Machines has been the most successfully technology company in the world having earned more than 75,000 U.S. patents, spending more than $150 billion on research, and  employing five Nobel lauriets.

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In 1914, CTR made its biggest move hiring Thomas R. Watson as its president. Watson led the company through three major wars, the Great Depression, and the beginning of the Cold War. He helped the company double revenues to $9 million in his first four years and led its global expansion at a time when the country was isolationist.

Watson is probably best known for his motto at IBM: THINK. Here's his explanation:

"And we must study through reading, listening, discussing, observing and thinking. We must not neglect any one of those ways of study. The trouble with most of us is that we fall down on the latter -- thinking -- because it's hard work for people to think, And, as Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler said recently, 'all of the problems of the world could be settled easily if men were only willing to think.' "

On this page you can hear a 1915 audio recording from Watson.

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One of IBM's first products was the Electronic Tabulating System, a mechanical tabulator based on punched cards which was invented by Herman Hollerith in the 1890s. His Tabulating Machine Company became part of CTR in 1911. 

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This computing scale was invented in 1885 and became a key component in CTR. The company also produced bacon slicers, meat choppers, coffee mills, and retail scales. Interesting name for IBM as it's a scale not a computer.

The Computing Scale Company of America joined CTR in 1911.

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The industrial revolution was going on in full force at the beginning of the 20th century. One of the first IBM products was a time clock which had workers dial their employee number and then push a lever to record their arrival/departure on a roll of paper.

Credit: Yannick Trottier

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In 1924, the company officially changed its name to International Business Machines. It was bolstered at this time by the invention of the Carroll Rotary Card Press that doubled the manufacturing capticity for punch cards - 1,000 cards in 60 seconds - resulting in profits of about $1 per minute of operation.

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In the 1930s while the U.S. suffered through the Great Depression, IBM prospered. One of its biggest achievements was helping organize the Social Security Administration which was formed in 1935. It used its army of key punch machines to keep track of tax payments coming from 27 million workers. It showed that a company can help business and government manage itself with the assistance of technology.

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Watson pushed IBM's strong allegiance to education and research with the creation in 1932 of a major division for engineering, research and development. He also created the IBM Schoolhouse above in 1933 for education and training of staff. (The motto is on the steps.)

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During World War II, IBM and Harvard University developed the the first automatic digital calculator in the U.S. called the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator or Mark 1. It was 58-feet long and 8-feet high. It could add, subtract, multipy and divide numbers up to 23 digits long.

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IBM charged ahead in the computing industry in the 1950s with the IBM 701 which operated from vacuum tubes instead of switches used in its earlier computers. This led to the use of computers in business applications. Transistors replaced the vacuum tubes in 1959 with the IBM 7090 mainframe being of one the first.

Here is Thomas Watson at the desk of an IBM 701.

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IBM made a splash in 1957 with the introduction of FORTRAN, a computer language based on algebra, grammar and syntax rules.

Here's a PDF of original instructions for FORTRAN.

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In 1956, Thomas Watson, Jr. took over as CEO of IBM from his father who had led the company for 42 years. He kept the key slogan - THINK.

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In 1957, the IBM 305 Random Access Method of Accounting and Control contained the first computer disk storage system.

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The IBM System/360 was introduced in 1964 and brought with it a radical idea - businesses could purchase one system with the option to upgrade if their needs required. It came with from 8KB  to 8MB of internal memory, and up to 8MB of slower Large Core Storage. A large system might have 256 KB of main storage.

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IBM has been a leader in employee public relations. In 1958 it was among the first companies to put their entire work force on salary.

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In the 1950s, IBM introduced magnetic tapes to replace punch cards. Mechanical engineer James A. Weidenhammer used a regular vacuum cleaner and baby pants to solve the final hurdles for successful implementation of magnetic tapes.

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In 1960 IBM's Stretch computer became the pioneer of computer "multitasking."

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IBM, which sponsored the invention of the electric typewriter in the 1930s, developed on the most popular business machines - the IBM Selectric in 1961. Rather than use keys, the Selectric used a rotating ball to type the characters. It could be easily removed to change the font.

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IBM is very proud of its role in the U.S. space program that put a man on the moon. Dr. Helmut Hoelzer (left) and Dr. Randolph Hoelker make orbital calculations at the Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Flights of the 30 million horsepower Saturn rocket were simulated on an IBM 7090.

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IBM introduced the first floppy disk in 1971. The memory disk was 8 inches in diameter and could hold 80KB of memory. It did not work well when dirty so IBM put covers on them.

Credit: Tom94022

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The IBM Personal Computer was introduced in 1981. It came with an Intel processor, 16KB of user memory - expandable to 256KB, up to two floppy disks, and an optional color monitor. The operating system was called DOS and was made by a 32-person company called Microsoft.

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In 1986 IBM, scientists won the Nobel Peace Prize for the scanning tunneling microscope - which would eventually manipulate atoms to spell I-B-M.

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The huge changes in the computing world caught IBM by surprise in the 1990s with the PC and client/server revolutions. Business purchasing decision making changed radically and IBM was slow to adapt resulting in billions of dollars in losses.

Enter Lou Gerstner in 1993 as IBM's new chairman and CEO. The first outside leader of the company, Gerstner cut costs by shrinking the company's workforce while developing new product lines. He anticipated the growth of network computing and pushed IBM toward that goal.

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In 1996, IBM made news by challenging chess champion Garry Kasparov to a match with its new 32-node IBM RS/6000 SP. Kasparov managed to beat the computer by a score of 4 to 2. But Big Blue did make news by winning one game.

In the 1997 rematch, Big Blue won by a score of 3 1/2 to 2 1/2. Photo is from the rematch.

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n 1997, IBM launched "eBusiness," turning the Internet into a tool for business and ushering in the future of electronic commerce.

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In 2000, IBM made a commitment to Linux with the System/390 mainframe platform.

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In 2002 IBM named president and COO, Sam Palmisano, to succeed Lou Gerstner as CEO. Palmisano began at IBM as a sales rep in 1973 and moved up from there.

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With the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, IBM developed the Blue Gene supercomputer which was introduced in 2004. It was originally built to help biologists observe the invisible processes of protein folding and gene development - hence the name Gene.

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IBM repeated its gambit of having a supercomputer introduced to the public by playing a contest against humans. In Feb. 2011, Watson took on the two best-ever Jeopardy champions and beat them handily. Watson' future is not on game shows but in healthcare.

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One of IBM's current inititives is called Smart Planet. Introduced in 2008, the plan promises a smarter planet and a new strategic agenda for progress and growth

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In 2008, IBM's Roadrunner supercomputer broke the 1 petaflop or 1 quadrillion calculations per second barrier.

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An IBM invention that you're probably not aware of but you use it every day is the magnetic stripe. IBM didn't profit directly as it made the invention an open standard. It hoped to profit from a boost in computer sales.

IBM also invented the UPC code.

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