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The IBM Century: Creating the IT Revolution Paperback – November 2, 2011
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About the Author
Jeffrey R. Yost is associate director of the Charles Babbage Institute, a faculty member in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine Program at the University of Minnesota, and editor-in-chief of IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. He has published books on the history of the computer industry and scientific computing, and more than a dozen single-authored, peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on the business, social, cultural, and intellectual history of computing. He has led or co-led more than $1.6 million in National Science Foundation sponsored historical research projects on computing, software, and networking.
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IBM is unique in the computer field, and part of a small percentage of companies in any field, that remains a major successful business 100 years after its creation. How the company managed to adjust its direction multiple times is a fascinating business story.
Generally speaking, computer history is a prime example of each generation of technology not only obsoleting the previous generation of technology, but also resulting in the more-or-less failure of the companies that innovated each prior generation of technology (reflect on the sequence of technologies and companies that made and sold punch card equipment, mainframe computers, mincomputers, workstations, personal computers, and the now diminishing importance of the PC in the face of tablet computing). IBM is the exception to this story of repeated technology cannibalism leading to business failure.
The main body of The IBM Century is a set of 10 reprints of articles (from the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing) written by IBM insiders who were technical and management leaders. These articles give the reader an excellent sample of perspectives on the management, business, hardware, software, and applications history of IBM, and of the type of people who brought the company through changes of direction and to repeated success.
The articles are augmented by a beautifully done 36-page introduction and overview of IBM's history by editor Yost, associated director of the Charles Babbage Institute computing history archive at the University of Minnesota. Yost also includes a 12-page timeline of IBM history and a 35-pagae annotated bibliography of the prior literature on IBM. The book also has a thorough index. (Because of the article reprints in the main body of the book which come from an 8.5 x 11 inch journal format, this book has the same large page size and thus much more content in its pages than would have a book in a typical, say 6 x 9 inch, trade book format.)
Naturally, with the history of IBM being so long and so diverse, readers will not find in this book discussions of some of their individual areas of interaction with IBM and its products. For instance, I wish the book could have included something on IBM Federal Systems and on the SHARE users group.
Nonetheless, I commend The IBM Century to you unconditionally. You can read the various articles and auxiliary content such as the introduction and timeline individually and out of order. Or you can start at the beginning, and read it from beginning to end. This is the first book anyone seriously interested in the history of IBM or the information technology industry should buy. If you have already read one of the best selling books nominally about IBM, e.g., one-time CEO Gerstner's Who Says Elephants Can't Dance, this book will give you a much more realistic picture of how the company has managed to stay "on its game" over the decades.
early customer of IBM equipment. The many photos brought back memories of
my years using similar equipment-- remember the punched card, the
keypunch, and all those large computer consoles and their blinking lights.
This is a great book, just to leaf thru, and read occasional articles
giving both a long perspective as well as a closeup view of some
of the key 'great' products and projects coming from this company.
Congratulations to Jeffrey Yost for editing the collection as well as
providing an impressive introduction and overview. This book will make
a fine gift, and is a fine gift to history.
Despite the excellent essays the book title "The IBM Century" is not justified.
There are no figures about the development of the global IT market.
The IBM World Trade Corporation, founded by Watson Sr. in 1949, with Arthur K. Watson as CEO until IBM WTC was surpassing IBM Domestic in 1963, does not exist in this book.
The editor argues that "accounts and memoirs of IBM's major developments of the past three decades are also absent and these memoirs have yet to be written".
How should a customer ordering a book with this title know in advance that the CEO terms after Watson Sr., Watson Jr. and Learson are in fact excluded?
As an excellent source I recommend Frank G. Soltis: "Fortress Rochester".
John Cocke "father of RISC processors" is not covered in this "IBM Century".
Yost: "In 1911 Hollerith sold the Tabulating Machine Company to businessman Charles Flint. Flint combined this company with two other firms he had recently acquired, the Computing Scale Company and the International Time Recording Company, to form the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Corporation (C-T-R)."
There is no such statement in the autobiography of Charles R. Flint "Memories of an Active Life" (1923), who describes himself as "The Father of Trusts", bestowed on him by the Chicago newspapers ... continuing "...in the light of thirty years' experience, during which time I have acted as organizer or industrial expert in the formation of twenty-four consolidations, let me review the general advantage of this form of industrial economy....In 1911 I made a departure from the practice of bringing about consolidations of allied interests, that is by consolidating the manufacturers of similar but not identical products. The Computing-Tabulating-Recording Co. is of this class; and although it is not the largest of the consolidations in which I have acted as organizer, it has been and is the most successful. At the outset of this organization, I pointed out to the Guarantee Trust Co. that proposed `allied consolidation', instead of being dependent for earnings upon a single industry, would own three separate and distinct lines of business...On the several but not joint responsibility of my syndicate subscribers, the Guaranty Trust loaned over $4.000.000....The Company started with an aggregate bonded indebtedness of $6.500.000 three times its then net current assets."
G. D. Austrian, in Herman Hollerith (1982), quotes Roebling writing to Hollerith: "Mr. Flint is a gentleman I have known for good many years, and his business is putting together industrial consolidations."
IBM describes Charles R. Flint as follows:
"Charles R. Flint was the founder of the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, the forerunner of IBM. A businessman and financier, Flint brought together in 1907 the principals of three companies -- the International Time Recording Company of Endicott, N.Y.; the Computing Scale Company of America, of Dayton, Ohio; and the Tabulating Machine Company of Washington, D.C. -- to propose a merger. Talks and detailed planning among the parties continued until June 6, 1911, when the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (C-T-R) was incorporated as a holding company controlling the three separate firms. Flint remained a member of C-T-R's board of directors until his retirement in 1930."
In a nutshell: Hollerith did not sell to Flint, it was a complicated financially engineered consolidation of companies with shareholders, of which Flint was not the owner but the orchestrator.
Yost: "The formation of C-T-R justifiably is the recognized starting point of IBM. ... The corporation itself recognizes 1911 as IBM's start, and the vast majority of computer historians do as well."
In 1995 Emerson Pugh explained in Chapter 2 - Origins of IBM - on Page 28:
"It is traditional in IBM to honor Watson by equating the founding of the company with his arrival as general manager of CTR." Under Note 23 on page 336 you find: "The view that IBM was founded when T.J. Watson, Sr., became general manager of CTR in 1914 is broadly accepted. For example, the anticipated announcement of the appointment of Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., as chief executive of IBM was reported by the New York Times on 26 March 1993, p.1D as follows: "Mr. Gerstner, 51, who is chairman of the RJR Nabisco Holdings Corporation, would be the sixth chief executive in the 79-year history of the International Business Machines Corporation, and the first picked from outside the company's ranks."
In fact, I remember that IBM under John F. Akers celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1989!
Pugh continues on Page 28: "From a historical perspective, however, the founding of IBM might better be dated to the founding of Hollerith's business. Although other candidates for the `founding event' exist, winning the contract in late 1889 to process data from the upcoming census literally put Hollerith in business."
The year of 2014 is the next big opportunity to celebrate IBM's rich history: 100th anniversary of Thomas Watson, Sr., joining CTR and 100th birthday of Thomas Watson, Jr., Jan. 14th, 1914! This is my favorite year of the birth of IBM, because it was Watson Sr. who had the IBM vision and was the longest of the long-term thinkers as Tedlow ("The Watson Dynasty")"formulates correctly in chapter 10 headlined "The Watson Way".
Yost (see "quotes" and comments):
"Watson Sr., was reluctant to enter the computer business."
This is in contradiction to Emerson Pugh's reference to John McPherson (Building IBM - Pg.357).
"Thomas Watson Jr. was more open to the possibility of computers ... but showed some initial reluctance".
This is a misrepresentation of Watson Jr. who, after returning from WW II, was concentrating all his efforts on leading IBM into the computer business.
"IBM 701 ... Hurd was the principal technical leader".
Bob Evans on page 174 writes correctly that "Jerrier A. Haddad and Nathaniel Rochester, leading young development managers, assumed overall direction of the project." This is also my understanding.
"Despite the immense impact of CICS and IMS ... they have received relatively little attention in the existing historical literature."
IT Historian Martin Campbell-Kelly in "A History of the Software Industry" Pg. 266: "But if CICS were to vanish, corporate America would grind to a halt. If Microsoft Windows were to vanish, one of the available substitutes would fill the vacuum within weeks, perhaps within days."
On the back cover the editor claims that this book contains "the most comprehensive IBM annotated bibliography".
In addition to the important books in Yost's bibliography I have carefully researched and studied more than 40 books about IBM which are not mentioned in Yost's annotated bibliography and should be added; the same applies to another set of almost 30 books with relevance to IBM's history.