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Did IBM jump the gun on 100-year celebration?

As everyone no doubt knows, IBM is celebrating its 100th anniversary this week.

As a century-old innovator in the world of computers, IBM has changed the industry — and the way we do so many things — more than practically any company.

So you would think it would be easy to remember when they were born, or even what their name was at the time. But it’s not as cut-and-dried as all that.

Let me explain. The official anniversary date, June 16, 1911, was the day that four companies — the Computing Scale Company of America, Tabulating Machine Company, International Time Recording Company of New York, and the Bundy Manufacturing Company — all had been acquired to form the incorporation of…no, not what you thought. This is the day that the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (C-T-R) was incorporated as a holding company to handle the merger of those other four companies.

That’s it. This week essentially marks the anniversary of a business transaction. Is that the real date to celebrate?

IBM used to say that their anniversary date was May 4, 1914. This was the day that Thomas J. Watson Sr. was hired as C-T-R’s general manager. And this was when the company really got going, as Watson set the company in a direction that would allow it to become a world leader in computing technology.

He had the reins for 42 years, which was almost half of the company’s history no matter which of the two anniversary dates you use. So May 4, 1914 is definitely a contender.

Then there is Feb. 14, 1924. This is the day that C-T-R changed its name to International Business Machines. I would say that this is the anniversary date that matters most, since until 2024 you couldn’t really say that “IBM” was 100 years old.

I for one am glad that they did change their name, though, as at one point we would have been talking about hooking up our CRTs to our C-T-Rs, and that could only end in tears.

Actually, any of these dates could arguably be considered the actual anniversary. So why did IBM chose June 16, 2011 as its 100th birthday? My guess would be that it’s because it happened soonest. Maybe the company just wanted to get one in before the Mayan calendar resets.

Who knows, when 2014 and/or 2024 roll around, they might have another centennial simply because they are in the mood for more cake. I know if I make it to 100, I will want cake every day. And I would assume a different name every day to get it, if necessary.

So, Happy Birthday, whatever-you-are-calling-yourselves-these-days!

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.

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