IBM is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding Thursday. Led by American capitalist icons Thomas J. Watson, Sr., and Thomas J. Watson, Jr., until the 1970s, the company grew from a pre-World War I conglomeration of companies making tabulating machines and time-keeping devices into a globe-spanning technology behemoth that pioneered the development of electronic computers and dominated the mainframe era.
The company holds a mind-boggling array of patents and pioneered advances in a wide range of technologies including punched cards, processors, transistors, storage, word-processing, databases, and OSes. As one of the emblematic 20th-century corporations, IBM also went through turbulent times. The U.S. government brought several antitrust lawsuits against the company, and critics have attacked it for alleged cosiness with repressive regimes. After Watson, Jr., retired in the 1971, the company seemed to lose its way as mainframe computing began to face competition from smaller, more modular systems. Increasing bureaucracy contributed to missteps during the PC revolution, and IBM suffered a series of annual losses in the early 1990s. Under the reins of then-CEO Lou Gerstner, starting in the mid-90s, the company bounced back to profit by focusing on software, system integration, and other services, which remain key to the company's growth today.
[ Slideshow: Highlights of IBM's 100 years. Also on InfoWorld: A look at IBM's new future in quantum computing. | Discover what's new in business applications with InfoWorld's Technology: Applications newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]
Although Hewlett-Packard, after its acquisition of Compaq, overtook IBM as the world's largest computer company by annual revenue, IBM's global reach and broad product portfolio still make it one of the largest and most profitable IT companies in the world, with about 427,000 employees and a profit of $14.8 billion on sales of $99.9 billion last year. The following is a timeline of milestone events in one of the quintessential U.S. corporate success stories.
1889: Time-recording equipment maker Bundy Manufacturing is incorporated.
1896: Punched-card, electric tabulating equipment maker The Tabulating Machine is incorporated.
1911: Incorporation on June 16 of the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (C-T-R), which merges Bundy, Tabulating Machine, Computing Scale, and International Time Recording. Headed by trust organizer Charles Flint, the company has 1,300 employees.
1914: Thomas J. Watson, Sr., joins C-T-R at age 40, after learning aggressive sales tactics at the National Cash Register (NCR) that led to his conviction on antitrust charges. The verdict was set aside after an appeal. Within 11 months of joining C-T-R, Watson became its president. His focus on marketing and sales and large-scale tabulating products for businesses helped company revenue more than double in his first four years at C-T-R, to $9 million. Over the next four decades as IBM CEO, Watson, Sr., became an American business icon, pioneering worker benefits such as paid vacations and group insurance while instilling discipline and loyalty in generations of IBM workers.
1923: The first electric key punch is introduced, representing an advance on mechanical systems.