International Business Machines (IBM) is a global IT hardware manufacturer and service provider headquartered in the United States. IBM became a leader in computing hardware with the rise of early computers in the 1950s and 60s, but the shift to personal computers in the 1980s resulted in significant losses for the company. Today, IBM’s portfolio consists mostly of enterprise-level technology hardware and hosting and consulting services.

History of IBM

In 1911, the company was incorporated as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (C-T-R) and manufactured a variety of machinery including industrial time recorders, commercial scales, tabulators, and punch cards. Three years later, Thomas J. Watson, Sr. joined the company as general manager and set the company on course to become IBM as it’s known today. Soon after being named president, Watson oversaw the shift of the company’s primary product offering to large-scale business computing equipment and transitioned the name to IBM. To catalyze technological innovation, IBM opened the Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory at Columbia University in 1945.

IBM launched 701, the company’s first computer, in 1952 and spent the next two decades dominating the field of mainframe and minicomputers. These machines (specifically the System/360 and 370 families) were capable of unprecedented levels of computing power, so they were widely used by businesses, universities, laboratories, and government offices alike. The dawn of personal computers (PCs) in the 1980s and 90s, however, created dramatic financial losses for IBM. As vendors like Compaq, Dell, and HP took over the PC and PC compatible market, IBM shifted toward integrated business solutions, consulting, and research.

Although IBM never fully recovered from its business losses, it is still a leader in the IT industry today. It’s home to the largest industrial research facilities in the world, so it makes sense that IBM is still a powerhouse of large-scale business hardware offerings specifically mainframe computers, servers, and infrastructure. IBM is also competitive in hosting and consulting services, including Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), Managed Security Services (MSS), and IoT consulting.

Notable accomplishments

  • 1935: The U.S. government uses IBM’s punch card equipment to create and maintain employment records for the entire population of American workers in concordance with the Social Security Act.
  • 1957: IBM researchers invent the hard disk drive.
  • 1969: The magnetic stripe card is developed by IBM and put in production to create debit cards and ID badges for banks, insurance companies, hospitals, government offices, etc.
  • 1971: IBM develops the first commercial floppy disk.
  • 1972: IBM presents a proposal for the first Universal Product Code (UPC), which would later be adopted by retailers around the world.
  • 1973: IBM researchers Donald D. Chamberlain and Raymond F. Boyce write the SQL programming language.
  • 1991: Lexmark, a printer, typewriter, and keyboard company, is spun out of an IBM manufacturing division.
  • 2006: Frances Allen, an IBM Research Fellow, becomes the first woman to receive the Turing Award.
  • 2011: Watson, a cognitive computing platform, defeats Jeopardy champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings.
  • 2019: IBM acquires Red Hat, an open source software company.





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