Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thomas J. Watson

February 10, 1996 was the day that IBM's chess supercomputer, aka "Deep Blue," set a record—it was the first time a computer had ever beaten a reigning world chess champion. Although Garry Kasparov would go on to win the next three matches and ultimately triumph 4-2 against the computer, IBM's team had set an impressive mark in computing history. Thus, with this moment in mind, today we celebrate one of the pioneering forces behind IBM the company, Thomas J. Watson.

Thomas J. Watson, Sr., was born in New York in 1874, and as a young man went from being a traveling salesman to a butcher before he found a steady career. When he had to close his butcher shop, he had to arrange repayment for his new NCR cash register. When he went to the company, he determined that he would get a job with them, which led him back to sales.

After a successful climb up the corporate ladder, Watson left in 1914 to join the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation, which he took over as general manager, eventually renaming the company International Business Machines in 1924. Watson led the company in producing the leading tabulating and computing machines. He persisted through the Great Depression, refusing to lay off workers, a strategy that paid off when the newly created Social Security administration needed powerful machines to track employment data. IBM punch-card machines also featured prominently in the calculations for the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos.

After WWII, when IBM had produced Browning rifles and engine parts for the US Government, IBM would emerge as the leading R&D company in the emerging computer industry. Watson eventually turned over the company to his son in 1956, shortly before his death. The Watson imprint was strong on the company—he had created a corporate culture that strove to make new products, especially cross-compatible computing systems that made possible things like the Internet and the modern personal computer.

Sources:
Wikipedia entry on Watson
IBM company profile

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