fredag den 3. juni 2011

IBM Centennial – From 1911 to 1970

(Picture: Dansk Folkeforsikring installs the first "real" computer - the IBM 1410 in 1962)

On June 16. IBM will celebrate it's 100 years anniversary, the Centennial. On that date in 1916 the Computing, Tabulating & Recording Company was incorporated as a merger between 3 companies.The Computing was actually represented by computing scales, and recording was the Time Recording used as a basis for wages in industry. The Tabulating part was a result of Hermann Hollerith’s invention of the punched card machinery, first used in 1890 for the US Census.

As Hermann's business idea was to rent the machinery to customers and not sell it, he soon realized the need for a much larger marketing muscle and willing investors, which is why he gave up his company to enter the merger. This company was renamed to International Business Machines, but that happened as late as 1924. So in 13 years IBM can celebrate yet another centennial.

As I have been granted the privilege of access to my former company's archives in my attempt to write the history of IBM Denmark, I have dug into the archives to see what kind of impact the CTR-company, the Hollerith equipment and later the Danish IBM company has had on the Danish society. (See my slides from HINC3, History of IT in the Nordic Countries, Stockholm 2010)

As it turned out, this year is also the centennial for the first Hollerith equipment that was used in Denmark: The Danish Statistical Department received 2 sorting machines, 1 tabulator and 6 punch card machines in june 1916, ordered through the German affiliate of CTR, DeHoMag – Deutsche Hollerith Machinen Gesellschaft A/G. The were returned only after one year, and the impact was not impressive – with no service personnel and no instructions, the machines jammed frequently, which proved a challenge for the first entrepreneur selling 'IBM' equipment in Denmark, Max Bodenhoff, who was granted the role as an agent for Hollerith Equipment in 1920.

Max B. tried several times to persuade IBM to set up a service bureau, but only succeeded in 1933. During the recession of the thirties and especially during the German Occupation 1940-45 this proved to be one of the reasons why IBM solutions had a stronghold in Denmark in the Forties, and helped by a donation from the US Army of 2 lorries filled with punched card equipment from the US Army, the Data Center and the City of Copenhagen immediately after the war was updated with 'heavy' machinery. The team with Max B. had spent the war to develop an arsenal of different applications and solutions, so it was a solid base, upon which a new affiliate could be created in 1950. Viggo Troels-Smith became the first CEO, a position he held until 1952, when he was named Executive Assistant to the European IBM Vice President, and then again from 1960 until his death in 1980.

The punch card era in DK contributed to a number of solutions for the public sector: Danish Railroads, census and statistics, but most important salary systems, citizen registration and taxation systems. Also the insurance business was among the key industries at this time.

The cities of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg pioneered the use and applications in the municipal sector, and the 2 top salesmen in the IBM hierarchy, Renner Andresen and Willy Olsen, became the founding fathers for some of the most important Data Centers in the public sector. Already in 1953 the association of municipalities and the association of cities in the County of Copenhagen, created the first center serving several communities, but soon the idea was taken up by other parts of the public sector: Renner A. became the first CEO of Jydske Kommuners EDB-central in 1955. JKE eventually merged in 1971 with other municipal centers to create Kommunedata, now KMD. Willy Olsen formed Government Data Center, I/S Datacentralen of 1959, most likely based on a request the year before to IBM to enter into highly confidential planning discussions on a new taxation system – 'pay as you go' – instead of the traditional, declaration based system. Willy O. was in charge of IBM's team, and undoubtedly he spotted the business potential, yet it took almost 10 years before the work materialized in a very advanced citizen registration system and a new taxation system. Also one of the World's first Vehicle Registration System – based on the IBM 2321 Datacell with Teletype terminals – was installed in the late 1960's.

The 60'es marked the first decade with 'real' computers – from the IBM 701 to 1401 and then the 1410, that was claimed by old timers to be the first 'real' computer as it had multiplication and division as part of the instruction set, something the 1401 and other contemporary machines had to simulate. This gave rise to new, advanced solutions: Dansk Folkeforsikring installed the first 1410 in 1962, Handelsbanken entered the computing age at the same time. In 1963 Scandinavian Airlines Systems launched their first IBM based booking system, SASCO I, and in October 1965 a 'super computer' IBM 7090 was installed at the Danish Technical University after lengthy negotiations as a gift to the scientific World. It was part of Scandinavian/Dutch University network and named NEUCC – Northern European University Computing Centre. It was soon upgraded to an IBM 7094, which in fact was my first personal meeting with IBM Computing. (See Picture from NEUCC)

In 1966 Gentofte hospital installed an IBM 1800 process control computer and marked the first milestone of eHealth in Denmark. Landbrugets EDB-central, LEC, the data center for the Danish Agricultural Sector, was started in 1962 and got it's first 'real' computers also in the late 60'ies. At that time IBM launched a new series of systems, the IBM/360 with a new operating system – OS/360 – that would change the momentum of computing yet once more.

Looking back at the period from 1911 until 1970 the impact of the IBM organisation was due to a combination of strong marketing and sales skills, a clear fokus on internal training as well as education for customers, a dedication of systems engineers that helped customers define and develop new applications – and of course the steady development of equipment and partly SW. Not always leading edge, but with a firm reputation for quality.

I will discuss the major milestones of IBM Denmark in my next blog covering the period from 1970 and until today.

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