Authored by Anthony Critelli
June 16, 1911, was the founding of government contractor and corporate giant IBM. The company was formed via the merger of Tabulating Machine Company, Computing Scale Company of America and International Time Recording Company into Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR) by trust organizer Charles F. Flint.
Though the company is celebrating a century of incorporation, it considers it earliest origin to be the invention of the computing scale in 1885, tabulating system in 1886 and dial recorder in 1888. These inventions were the centerpieces of the three predecessor companies.
The current name of International Business Machines (IBM) Corporation was adopted in 1924 because CTR did not fully describe the scope of its business activities.
IBM has made many important contributions to the U.S. government, mostly in the computing realm. Accomplishments in the last century include:
- 1937 – Developing the IBM 077 Collator to provide recordkeeping for the 26 million Social Security numbers and 3.5 million Employer Identification Numbers issued for the start of Social Security payroll computing. Before the machine was available, a French contractor advisor said of the project, “It can’t be done.” The first machines were eventually replaced by the IBM 604 Electronic Calculator and, later, the IBM 604 Electronic Calculator.
- World War II – Placing all its facilities at the disposal of the U.S. government and expanding product lines to bombsights, rifles and engine parts. IBM only reaped a one-percent profit on these items, which it used to establish a fund for widows and orphans of company war casualties. On a more negative note, the company’s punched card technology was used in U.S. internment camps and German concentration camps. The book IBM and the Holocaust details the company’s German contracting activities. The company counters that its German unit was under the control of Nazi authorities.
- 1959 – Using the IBM 7090 mainframe to run the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System. The machine was used for this purpose until the 1980s.
- 1963 – Processing flight data and providing mission control with real-time updates and critical flight parameters for Alan Shepard’s initial flight into space. Lead engineer Art Cohen called the work “the first real-time data processing entry.” IBM also worked with the 1965 Gemini flights, 1966 Saturn flights and the 1969 mission to land a man on the moon. The 7090 was used on both the Shepard and Gemini missions.
The IBM 7090 mainframe played a key role in both ballistic missile defense and putting the first American in space. Photo courtesy of NASA.
- 1993 – Sending the ThinkPad 750 aboard a space shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope to run a NASA test program to determined if radiation inherent in the space environment causes memory anomalies in it or generates other unexpected problems. The successful test has led to a lasting relationship with the International Space Station: 68 ThinkPad A31 computers and 32 new Lenovo ThinkPad T61p laptops were on it as of early 2010.
- 1999 – Starting the Blue Gene program to “explore the frontiers in supercomputing.” IBM partnered with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to develop the Blue Gene/L machine, which was number four on the TOP500 supercomputer list in November 2008. Approximately $100 million of the development money came from a 2002 contract.
IBM Contracting Today
IBM continues to be a major player in the GovCon game, ranking 21st on the 2011 Washington Technology Top 100 with nearly $1.6 billion in federal contracts. DOD spending accounted for almost $300 million of the figure. Its major customers are the U.S. Special Operations Command, Air Force, Federal Aviation Administration, General Services Administration and Social Security Administration.
While many contractors would love to do IBM’s level of business, federal procurement is the proverbial “drop in the bucket” for the company. Its total 2010 revenue was $99.9 billion.
A Not-So-Rowdy Celebration
IBM marked its centennial yesterday with a “Celebration of Service.” The company is allowing its up to 400,000 employee to skip work to put their technical skills toward charitable causes and schools. The day-of-service projects are staggered throughout the week, so “Big Blue” does not miss a day of operations.
Anthony Critelli follows the latest GovCon developments as news editor for GovWin.com, the network that helps government contractors win new business every day. He can be reached at [email protected].