IBM Celebrates 100 Years

International Business Machines Corporation – or IBM – is truly a global brand. Few companies can claim to be recognized in as many countries and across as many industries, sectors, economies and governments as IBM.

International Business Machines Corporation - or IBM - is truly a global brand. Few companies can claim to be recognized in as many countries and across as many industries, sectors, economies and governments as IBM. The company was incorporated on June 16, 1911 as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (C-T-R). Since its incorporation, IBM has grown from an eclectic company that sold a variety of business machinery into an international conglomerate that's considered the ultimate force in recording, processing, communicating, storing and retrieving information. In 1917, the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company entered the Canadian market under the name of International Business Machines Co, Ltd, the first time the new name was used. Since that time, the Canadian arm has grown to include the company's largest semiconductor packaging and test facility outside of the US, in Bromont, Québec. IBM Canada Lab houses the company's largest group of software professionals, with sites in Markham, London, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria. Indeed, IBM Canada is considered one of Canada's leading exporters.

2011 marks IBM's 100th anniversary - a considerable feat in this era of mergers and foreclosures, fragmentations and redesigns. Over the years, IBM has proved itself to be an innovative company not only in the world of computers, but as a leader with ever-adapting business sense. Its distinctive logo represents more than RAM, bytes and bits; it reflects progress, innovation and creativity, qualities that are encapsulated by the company slogan, THINK, which was developed by IBM founder Thomas J. Watson in the 1920s.

The familiar striped IBM logo was designed in 1972 by Paul Rand to suggest speed and dynamism. The striped logo also photocopied better than the solid letters of the previous logo.

Technology and Change

In its 100 years, IBM has borne witness to global-scale changes and has helped shape technological innovations that define this past century. Developments by IBM have included punch cards, time clocks, accounting machines, electric typewriters, military ordnance, calculators and computer systems. But it was the acquisition of a landmark US government contract following the enactment of the Social Security Act of 1935 that really put IBM on the map. During the Depression, IBM had kept its employees busy producing business machines, even though demand was low. Thanks to the accumulated inventory, the company was ready when the government launched its intitiative. From that point on, IBM's expertise has been used in some of the most groundbreaking and influential projects of our time - from the historic 1969 Apollo mission to the moon, to analyzing human DNA from across the world through the Genographic Project.

Beyond technological advances, IBM has influenced business practices across sectors. In 1958, IBM became the first industrial organization to put hourly-wage employees on a salary. As salaried employees, they received more generous health benefits and erased the distinction between "blue” and "white” collar employees. Additionally, IBM took an intellectual approach to its hiring process, starting in 1953 with its policy of "hiring people who have the personality, talent and background necessary to fill a given job, regardless of race, colour or creed.” This diversity initiative came eleven years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1942, IBM hired blind psychologist Michael Supa to create a program for hiring and training people with disabilities. A training centre was opened in 1943 and disability coverage was added to IBM's benefit plan in 1947. Since that time, IBM has worked to increase accessibility through such innovations as text-to-speech converters and the IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Centre within IBM Research. This group works to find solutions to accessibility problems, while making it easier for businesses to accommodate workers with disabilities.

In 1967, IBM presented an exhibit of its computer systems at Expo '67 in Montréal. The huge System/360, which was big enough to fill a room, had about 0.1% the power of a modern PC. When it was announced in 1964, board chairman Thomas J. Watson Jr called the event the most important product announcement in the company's history. The 360 brought more productivity at lower cost-purchase prices ranged from USD $133,000 to $5.5 million. It was the beginning of a new generation of computers and of computer applications.

IBM's Cultural Impact

Today, it is difficult to pass a day without contacting IBM products and initiatives. For example, the magnetic stripe on bank and credit cards was developed by IBM engineer Forrest Parry in the early 1960s. He wanted to affix a stripe of magnetized tape on a plastic identity card for the CIA, but couldn't find a suitable method. His wife, so the story goes, suggested using an iron to melt the strip onto the plastic. IBM became a pioneer in magnetic stripe technology. Cultural impact of IBM initiatives has been significant, affecting all aspects of life, including commerce, education, health care and travel. As an example of the latter, in 2002, Air Canada began a trial program using wireless mobile IBM self-service kiosks to expedite passenger check-in at Toronto's Lester B. Pearson Airport. The mobile kiosks represented the first jointly developed solution resulting from the strategic relationship between IBM and Air Canada. The kiosks are a familiar part of air travel today.

Throughout its centennial year, IBM will be hosting lectures and forums around the world and will debut short films and feature articles that celebrate IBM's contributions to business, science and society. The book In Making the World Better: the Ideas that Shaped a Century and a Company marks the company's centennial.

Jessica Potter is a freelance writer with a varied background in both biological and social sciences and has a particular affinity for Canadian history.