On March 19th, 1986, IBM registered the ibm.com domain name, making it the ninth Internet .com domain ever to be registered.
IBM has continually shifted its business mix by exiting commoditizing markets and focusing on higher-value, more profitable markets. This includes spinning off printer manufacturer Lexmark in 1991 and selling off its personal computer (ThinkPad) and x86-based server businesses to Lenovo (2005 and 2014, respectively), and acquiring companies such as PwC Consulting (2002), SPSS (2009), and The Weather Company (2016). Also in 2014, IBM announced that it would go “fabless”, continuing to design semiconductors but offloading manufacturing to GlobalFoundries. Nicknamed Big Blue, IBM is one of 30 companies included in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and one of the world’s largest employers, with (as of 2016) nearly 380,000 employees. Known as “IBMers”, IBM employees have been awarded five Nobel Prizes, six Turing Awards, ten National Medals of Technology and five National Medals of Science.
In the 1880s, technologies emerged that would ultimately form the core of what would become International Business Machines (IBM). Julius E. Pitrat patented the computing scale in 1885; Alexander Dey invented the dial recorder (1888); Herman Hollerith patented the Electric Tabulating Machine; and Willard Bundy invented a time clock to record a worker’s arrival and departure time on a paper tape in 1889. On June 16, 1911, their four companies were consolidated in New York State by Charles Ranlett Flint to form the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR) based in Endicott, New York. The four companies had 1,300 employees and offices and plants in Endicott and Binghamton, New York; Dayton, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Washington, D.C.; and Toronto. They manufactured machinery for sale and lease, ranging from commercial scales and industrial time recorders, meat and cheese slicers, to tabulators and punched cards. Thomas J. Watson, Sr., fired from the National Cash Register Company by John Henry Patterson, called on Flint and, in 1914, was offered CTR. Watson joined CTR as General Manager then, 11 months later, was made President when court cases relating to his time at NCR were resolved. Having learned Patterson’s pioneering business practices, Watson proceeded to put the stamp of NCR onto CTR’s companies. He implemented sales conventions, “generous sales incentives, a focus on customer service, an insistence on well-groomed, dark-suited salesmen and had an evangelical fervor for instilling company pride and loyalty in every worker”. His favorite slogan, “THINK”, became a mantra for each company’s employees. During Watson’s first four years, revenues more than doubled to $9 million and the company’s operations expanded to Europe, South America, Asia and Australia. “Watson had never liked the clumsy hyphenated title of the CTR” and chose to replace it with the more expansive title “International Business Machines”.
In 1937, IBM’s tabulating equipment enabled organizations to process unprecedented amounts of data, its clients including the U.S. Government, during its first effort to maintain the employment records for 26 million people pursuant to the Social Security Act, and Hitler’s Third Reich, largely through the German subsidiary Dehomag. During the Second World War the company produced small arms for the American war effort (M1 Carbine, and Browning Automatic Rifle).
In 1949, Thomas Watson, Sr., created IBM World Trade Corporation, a subsidiary of IBM focused on foreign operations. In 1952, he stepped down after almost 40 years at the company helm, and his son Thomas Watson, Jr. was named president. In 1956, the company demonstrated the first practical example of artificial intelligence when Arthur L. Samuel of IBM’s Poughkeepsie, New York, laboratory programmed an IBM 704 not merely to play checkers but “learn” from its own experience. In 1957, the FORTRAN scientific programming language was developed. In 1961, IBM developed the SABRE reservation system for American Airlines and introduced the highly successful Selectric typewriter. In 1963, IBM employees and computers helped NASA track the orbital flight of the Mercury astronauts. A year later it moved its corporate headquarters from New York City to Armonk, New York. The latter half of the 1960s saw IBM continue its support of space exploration, participating in the 1965 Gemini flights, 1966 Saturn flights and 1969 lunar mission.
On April 7, 1964, IBM announced the first computer system family, the IBM System/360. Sold between 1964 and 1978, it spanned the complete range of commercial and scientific applications from large to small, allowing companies for the first time to upgrade to models with greater computing capability without having to rewrite their application. In 1974, IBM engineer George J. Laurer developed the Universal Product Code. IBM and the World Bank first introduced financial swaps to the public in 1981 when they entered into a swap agreement. The IBM PC, originally designated IBM 5150, was introduced in 1981, and it soon became an industry standard. In 1991, IBM sold printer manufacturer Lexmark. In 1993, IBM posted a US$8 billion loss – at the time the biggest in American corporate history. Lou Gerstner was hired as CEO from RJR Nabisco to turn the company around. In 2002, IBM acquired PwC consulting, and in 2003 it initiated a project to redefine company values, hosting a three-day online discussion of key business issues with 50,000 employees. The result was three values: “Dedication to every client’s success”, “Innovation that matters—for our company and for the world”, and “Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships”.
In 2005, the company sold its personal computer business to Chinese technology company Lenovo and, in 2009, it acquired software company SPSS Inc. Later in 2009, IBM’s Blue Gene supercomputing program was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by U.S. President Barack Obama. In 2011, IBM gained worldwide attention for its artificial intelligence program Watson, which was exhibited on Jeopardy! where it won against game-show champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. In 2012, IBM announced it has agreed to buy Kenexa, and a year later it also acquired SoftLayer Technologies, a web hosting service, in a deal worth around $2 billion. In 2014, IBM announced it would sell its x86 server division to Lenovo for a fee of $2.1 billion. Also that year, IBM began announcing several major partnerships with other companies, including Apple Inc., Twitter, Facebook, Tencent, Cisco, UnderArmour, Box, Microsoft, VMware, CSC, Macy’s, and Sesame Workshop, the parent company of Sesame Street. In 2015, IBM announced two major acquisitions: Merge Healthcare for $1 billion and all digital assets from The Weather Company, including Weather.com and the Weather Channel mobile app. Also that year, IBMers created the film A Boy and His Atom, which was the first molecule movie to tell a story. In 2016, IBM acquired video conferencing service Ustream and formed a new cloud video unit. In April 2016, it posted a 14-year low in quarterly sales. The following month, Groupon sued IBM accusing it of patent infringement, two months after IBM accused Groupon of patent infringement in a separate lawsuit.