History of IBM - Chronology - 1946–1960: Postwar Recovery, Rise of Business Computing, Space Exploration, The Cold War - Key Events

Key Events

1946: IBM 603
IBM announces the IBM 603 Electronic Multiplier, the first commercial product to incorporate electronic arithmetic circuits. The 603 used vacuum tubes to perform multiplication far more rapidly than earlier electromechanical devices. It had begun its development as part of a program to make a "super calculator" that would perform faster than 1944's IBM ASCC by using electronics.
1946: Chinese character typewriter
IBM introduces an electric Chinese ideographic character typewriter, which allowed an experienced user to type at a rate of 40 to 45 Chinese words a minute. The machine utilizes a cylinder on which 5,400 ideographic type faces are engraved.
1946: First black salesman
IBM hires its first Black salesman, 18 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
1948: IBM SSEC
IBM's first large-scale digital calculating machine, the Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator, is announced. The SSEC is the first computer that can modify a stored program, and featured 12,000 vacuum tubes and 21,000 electromechanical relays.
1950s: Space exploration
From developing ballistics tables during World War II to the design and development of intercontinental missiles to the launching and tracking of satellites to manned lunar and shuttle space flights, IBM has been a contractor to NASA and the aerospace industry.
1952: IBM 701
IBM throws its hat into the computer business ring by introducing the 701, its first large-scale electronic computer to be manufactured in quantity. The 701, IBM President Thomas J. Watson, Jr., later recalled, is "the machine that carried us into the electronics business."
1952: Magnetic tape vacuum column
IBM introduces the magnetic tape drive vacuum column, making it possible for fragile magnetic tape to become a viable data storage medium. The use of the vacuum column in the IBM 701 system signals the beginning of the era of magnetic storage, as the technology becomes widely adopted throughout the industry.
1952: First California research lab
IBM opens its first West Coast lab in San Jose, California: the area that decades later will come to be known as "Silicon Valley." Within four years, the lab begins to make its mark by inventing the hard disk drive.
1953: Equal opportunity policy letter
Thomas J. Watson, Jr., publishes the company's first written equal opportunity policy letter: one year before the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education and 11 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
1953: IBM 650
IBM announces the IBM 650 Magnetic Drum Calculator, an intermediate size electronic computer, to handle both business and scientific computations. A hit with both universities and businesses, nearly 2,000 IBM 650s are leased by 1962, making it the most popular computer of the 1950s.
1954: NORC
IBM develops and builds the fastest, most powerful electronic computer of its time: the Naval Ordnance Research Computer (NORC): for the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance.
1956: First magnetic Hard disk drive
IBM introduces the world's first magnetic hard disk for data storage. The IBM 305 RAMAC (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control) offers unprecedented performance by permitting random access to any of the million characters distributed over both sides of 50 two-foot-diameter disks. Produced in California, IBM's first hard disk stored about 2,000 bits of data per square inch and cost about $10,000 per megabyte. By 1997, the cost of storing a megabyte had dropped to around ten cents.
1956: Consent decree
The United States Justice Department enters a consent decree against IBM in 1956 to prevent the company from becoming a monopoly in the market for punched-card tabulating and, later, electronic data-processing machines. The decree requires IBM to sell its computers as well as lease them and to service and sell parts for computers that IBM no longer owned.
1956: Corporate design
In the mid-1950s, Thomas J. Watson, Jr., was struck by how poorly IBM was handling corporate design. He hired design consultant Eliot Noyes to oversee the creation of a formal Corporate Design Program, and charged Noyes with creating a consistent, world class look and feel at IBM. Over the next two decades Noyes hired a host of influential architects, designers, and artists to design IBM products, structures, exhibits and graphics. The list of Noyes contacts includes such iconic figures as Eero Saarinen, Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, John Bolles, Paul Rand, Isamu Noguchi and Alexander Calder.
1956: First European research lab
IBM opens its first research lab outside the United States, in the Swiss city of Zurich.
1956: Changing hands
Watson Sr., retires and hands IBM to his son, Watson Jr.. Senior dies soon after.
1956: Williamsburg conference
Watson Jr., gathered some 100 senior IBM executives together for a special three-day meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia. The meeting resulted in a new organizational structure that featured a six-member corporate management committee and delegated more authority to business unit leadership. It was the first major meeting IBM had ever held without Thomas J. Watson Sr., and it marked the emergence of a second generation of IBM leadership.
1956: Artificial intelligence
Arthur L. Samuel of IBM's Poughkeepsie, New York, laboratory programs an IBM 704 to play checkers (English draughts) using a method in which the machine can “learn” from its own experience. It is believed to be the first “self-learning” program, a demonstration of the concept of artificial intelligence.
1957: FORTRAN
IBM revolutionizes programming with the introduction of FORTRAN (Formula Translator), which soon becomes the most widely used computer programming language for technical work. FORTRAN is still the basis for many important numerical analysis programs.
1958: SAGE AN/FSQ-7
The SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) AN/FSQ-7 computer is built under contract to MIT's Lincoln Laboratories for the North American Air Defense System.
1958: Open Door program
First implemented by Watson, Sr., in the 1910s, the Open Door was a traditional company practice that granted employees with complaints hearings with senior executives, up to and including Watson, Sr., himself. IBM formalized this practice into policy in 1958 with the creation of the Open Door Program.
1959: Speak up!
A further example of IBM's willingness to solicit and act upon employee feedback, the Speak Up! Program was first created in San Jose.
1959: IBM 1401
IBM introduces the 1401, the first high-volume, stored-program, core-memory, transistorized computer. Its versatility in running enterprise applications of all kinds helps it become the most popular computer model in the world in the early 1960s.
1959: IBM 1403
IBM introduces the 1403 chain printer, which launches the era of high-speed, high-volume impact printing. The 1403 will not be surpassed for print quality until the advent of laser printing in the 1970s.

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