Powers of Ten

Let’s get started with the movie: Powers of Ten.

I quote from the entry in Charles and Ray Eames Site:

We hear about scale every day, whether it be supertankers, stars burning thousands of lightyears away, the study of microscopic viruses, or global warming. Understanding scale, or as the Eameses said, “the effect of adding another zero,”  has the power to make us better scholars and better citizens.

Charles and Ray’s documentary, Powers of Ten—one of most famous short films ever made—has been seen as an exemplar for teaching and understanding the importance of scale for nearly four decades. Now you can explore these ideas with your class, company, or family in tandem with Scale is the New Geography, a companion film to Powers of Ten by Charles’s grandson, Eames Demetrios. Learn more about the films and watch them below.

Before you go back to Good Design is Good Business or if want maybe browse the site, take a look at the exposition on Charles and Ray Eames the Vitra Design  Museum has created:

“Charles & Ray Eames. The Power of Design”
September 30, 2017  – February 25, 2018
Vitra Design Museum Gallery
Charles-Eames-Straße 2,  Weil am Rhein


Mathematical calculations and the computer.

First, what mathematical calculations?

(I used extensively information gathered at Quora ‘s Forum Is advanced mathematics useless?”)

I learned it the hard way when by the first time I proposed an graduate course on Quality at the IMECC at Unicamp, which is basically state of the art as it is possible in my country, Brazil. Professors there typically graduate from MIT  of UCLA or some equivalent in Europe.

You have  “pure math”, and “applied math”, which, before defining it, it must be said that pure mathematicians do it for the enjoyment of it. Something similar to what poets do. And many of them consider  applied mathematics some sort of profane or defiling act, if not foul, as it became very clear to me in my first interaction with IMECC.

On top of that pure math has a tradition of discovering things that seem at the moment of discovery useless and after 50 to 200 years become a must of some kind of applied science or technology.

So, it is a very loaded subject to deal with.

Doing applied math means that you are trying to solve real-world problems by applying mathematics.

Pure math means developing mathematics without an application in mind. Although probably there are no applications yet, they might come up with.

There is a tendency from unwary people to consider pure  mathematics useless, what, with the whole picture in mind is not the case.

There is a lot of quarel about the relationship of computers and mathematics, pure or applied.

You do not have to understand at all how a computer works or major in computer science. Simply because it is humanly impossible to deal with the amount of information embedded in a computer as a machine.

You simply have to know how to transform your mathematical idea into some kind of alghoritm and how do program it tol feed it to a computer.

Nowadays, Alghoritm Research became Advanced Mathematics… and what was once Advanced Mathematics became Elementary Mathematics…

One big issue I see is that there is a tendency to hide real world problems with unpronounceble names, such as, for instance, if you are interested in how light is reflecting off some object and how the objects affects it, you eventually will come up with  “Blinn-Phong shading to sub-surface scattering and also the many variants of Ambient Occlusions” if you are interested in smooth, realistic shadows in graphics. To explain that crap will take eventually  hours not to mention actually reading and understanding it.

Another example, in Financial technology, or fintech, if you are given a finite amount of data and not being able to completely predict the future, in order to find ways to predict the market you may use “generalized autoregressive conditional heteroskedasticity models or GARCH models”.

At the end of the day, after working in IBM for 22, mostly in developing, manufacturing and supporting mainframes, it seems to me that:

  1. We think mathematically about the world, or reality if you take in consideration also the world we have within us, because the natural world, specially the one outside of us, presents to our mind, or brains, that is an accurate and truthful way to figure it out. We do it specially under one capability of our brain or mind which is generally named logically or with rationality. From that you can fairly assume that all of mathematics is the reflex of the reflex in our mind of the natural world or the world inside of us.
  2. But the world is neither rational or irrational. It defies understanding with the equipment we are able to have to try it. As an example, take Newton Physics, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Each one perfectly explained mathematically, but destroying what was accepted by the other. This will go on and on, simply because the mathematics involved reflected in our minds about the reflex or reality does not reflect it as it really is. We were built or developed in such a fashion that this will never happen.
  3. Bottom line is that the real world or the reality we are stuck with does not proceed mathematically. The mathematical structures we conceive are not capable of expressing paradoxes or come up with some reasonable way to tackle time, distance and above all, size.
  4. What the world we live in is, inside or outside, is a mystery yet to be solved if it ever will.
  5. This doesn’t mean that the fact that Math is a reflex makes it useless.  If you leave out all the glamour and complication to the average mind it has, you end up with a powerful tool and decision maker our human nature can provide in most cases. But you have to use it with wisdom, which is a human nature only capability.
  6. The landing procedures explained at the introduction of this topic is the perfect example. If you ad to it real world math, where most often it is applied to what economists call “expected costs”, when  you try to figure out what is the cost of some risk and what chance that if will happen is the issue, you have a very good figure of what mathematics and the computers are all about.

Back to Good Design is Good Business


What actually happens inside of a computer?

And I mean Main Frame Computers of IBM

Which can be seen in more detail here

Obviously this is not an introductory presentation of a Computer Science Course. And I will try here to do what Charles and Ray Eames did when they were praised by Tom Watson Jr and the team, when they said: Charlie can put what a computer does into a little cartoon-like film and in the course of twelve minutes have everybody in the room understanding—how they work.”

The best place to start is to take a look in the excellent job about How did the Apollo flight computers get men to the moon and back .

The key catch here is the Task which is under the computer control, or responsibility, if you will.

The basic task of any computer is to transform Data into information and decide, or help somebody  what to do with it.

Data, generally speaking, are things known or assumed as facts, making the basis of reasoning or calculation.

In computing, data is the quantity, character or the symbol on which operations are to be performed by the computer, being stored and transmitted in some form, in most cases through electrical signals, which can be recorded through some kind of media, such as solid state, magnetic, optical, mechanical, or whatever technology which allows its recovery after.

Information is data with meaning to whatever you can conceive and which is attained eventually with the use of a computer

In a very broad sense it boils down mostly to mathematical calculations or process control, being that that from the bulk of an infinite list of  processes, those associated with daily operations of any size world’s corporations are the main stream. General ledger, pay roll, stock control and everything related to sales were, up until the early nineties more than half than anything computers did. Today (2018) it is difficult, if not impossible, specially for the lack of criteria, to establish that. We are on the verge of creation of virtual reality and  modeling for just about anything  with a long list of possibilities from which perhaps we should mention Computer Aided Design (CAD), image and voice processing, games and, why not, virtual reality.

It should be mentioned that until the mid-Until de mid 1990s, mainframes provided the only acceptable means of handling the data processing requirements of a large business. These requirements were then (and are often now) based on running large and complex programs, which Personal Computers, or smaller non main frames computers are getting into.

The first and most important consideration you have to have in mind is what became very clear in the presentation about the Apollo landing analysis: Mission Critical Application vs. Applications in General.

The old 360 architecture, no matter disguised under whatever name, or what advance it received, is still what you have to have if you want it done securely.

People do not know but it is impossible to bug an IBM Main Frame Operational System, just for starts.

Bear in mind that your ATM machine is a PC, but at the  other end it is a Main Frame. As matter of fact, almost all ATM machines in the USA as of today, 2018, run on XP, which had its support discontinued by Microsoft. Bear also in mind that, when a business application is accessed through a Web browser, there is often a mainframe computer performing crucial functions behind the scenes.

As it was the case in the Apollo landing set up.

Scalability and Reliability is also a very important aspect. For example, a banking institution could use a mainframe to host the database of its customer accounts, for which transactions can be submitted from any of thousands of ATM locations worldwide

Businesses today rely on the mainframe to:

  • Perform large-scale transaction processing (thousands of transactions per second)
  • Support thousands of users and application programs concurrently accessing numerous resources
  • Manage terabytes of information in databases
  • Handle large-bandwidth communication

Take a look, if you didn’t, at mathematical calculations and the computer.



Mathematica: A World of Numbers… and Beyond

Take a look at Wikipedia: Mathematica: A World of Numbers… and Beyond

Since it is rather clumsy to go to the point on what is that, I selected and organized information about it. If you live in an area close to the Unicamp, at Campinas, SP, Brasil, you can see the poster at the IMECC At ground level, under the clock display on the right lower portion of the above picture.

Mathematica, the first show organized by the Eames Office, is on permanent display at Boston’s Museum of Science and the New York Hall of Science. More than 50 years after its original inauguration, visitors still relish its beauty and multilayered exploration of how mathematics shapes our world.

New York

C & Ray Eames Mathematica 02


C & Ray Eames Mathematica 03


To celebrate Ray Eames’ centenary, Eames Office and IBM again joined forces to take the content in the timeline and make an app out of it. The result is “Minds of Modern Mathematics” which is billed as a multi medium exploration of the history of mathematics

Probaly the best bet is to download the free App Minds of Modern Mathematics at iTunes. The basics can be seen at .It is worth though to know how it got there.

From Thinking about museums

In 1961, IBM and the iconic designers Charles and Ray Eames presented “Mathematica: A World of Numbers… and Beyond” to the new California Museum of Science and Industry. It was the first of many exhibitions the Eames would create for IBM, and Mathematica would become so well-known that IBM would eventually create additional copies that were starring attractions at several U.S. science centers over the next five decades.

Five years after the opening of the Mathematica exhibit, IBM and Eames created “Men of Modern Mathematics” an enormous timeline of mathematical and scientific history. Copies of this timeline were added to Mathematica and posters were perennial favorites of museum shops and math department offices for years

C & Ray Eames Mathematica 04




The Eames, perhaps best known to designers for their chairs and to dorks for “The Powers of Ten” film they made, were instrumental in creating the mid 20th century American aesthetic, partly for their willingness to engage in any medium they fancied; architecture, interior design, furniture, filmmaking, museum exhibitions, etc…

The surviving Mathematica exhibitions are practically artifacts themselves, living embodiments of the Eames’ design mind. They were also masters of content development, as this app makes clear. If you’ve ever stood in front of one of the “Men of Modern Mathematics” timelines, you can appreciate why its so hard to make a good timeline. They take a (literally) gigantic amount of historical content and somehow make it all tell the story they want. It’s a hypertextual experience in physical form. Your eye can skip and jump from node to node, backwards, forwards, up, and down, as you explore math and its connections to everything going on between 1000-1950.

The app manages to capture the feeling of that experience, while rendering it in a format suitable for the iPad, which takes advantage of the affordances of the iPad in a way think Ray and Charles would’ve enjoyed. Each person or event on the timeline has both text and images and links to more information on the web. The app changes the user interface depending on whether you’re in landscape or portrait orientation, a la Biblion. And best of all, it collects in one place the short films the Eames made for the exhibition on one screen. The Math Peep Shows are classics of educational medium. Concepts like scaling and size, exponents, and other mathematical esoterica are explained and explored in a decidedly whimsical fashion.

This exibition was extremely inspirational on doing this job about James Joyce specially the THE GUEST/HOST RELATIONSHIP

A Computer Perspective


The first of many Eames Office exhibitions designed for IBM, A Computer Perspective charted the development of the computer from 1890 to 1950.
This exhibition included vintage and modern machines and a densely-layered six-paneled History Wall that incorporated computer artifacts, documents, and photographs mounted at various depths.
A Computer Perspective included a multiscreen slide show of 500 images called AV Rack, which highlighted the newest computer applications at that time. It also featured an interactive computer game of “Twenty Questions,” in which visitors tried to guess which subject (animal, vegetable, or mineral) the computer had selected.
A Computer Perspective opened at the IBM Corporate Exhibit Center in 1971 and ran through 1975.

C & Ray Eames A

C & Ray Eames B

C & Ray Eames C

C & Ray Eames D

C & Ray Eames E

C & Ray Eames FC & Ray Eames 01

C & Ray Eames 02




Good Design Is Good Business

It is absolutely amazing that despite the fact that IBM’s Corporate Design Program, the first of its kind in America,  has practically only one serious attempt to analyze it, to history it, to understand it, to put it into perspective, when we know how many billions a brand is worth, and IBM has been one which more consistently kept its value. I would risk to say that IBM as it was on the mind of the Watsons, father and son, has vanished and it hasn’t vanished for good yet, because of its image. This book is The Interface: IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945–1976 (A Quadrant Book).

Design to what?

We should have in the back of our minds the whole “tour de force” article of Thomas Haigh Communications of the ACM, Vol. 61 No. 1, Pages 32-37, because it’s not obvious what the design shouldexpress and, as matter of fact, it is subtle and it seems to me most people don’t realize that what is in every body’s mind as Big Blue can be realized under two sets of perception:

  1. Predominant, prevalent, “to the eyes” impression
  2. Computing and human relationship “in deep” impression
 I -Predominant, prevalent, “to the eyes” impression

Everything that takes form physically in three or two dimensions or you can see it printed as a logo, for example, or in pictures. Buildings, the machines themselves.The IBM logo  in this category.

II-Computing and human relationship “in deep” impression  
This is about what the computer actually does. Generally associated with science, specially under mathematics. You can’t see it not only because millions of such things are taking place in a blink of the eye, but also because it involves trainning to understand what is happening.

 I -Predominant, prevalent, “to the eyes” impression

Before we tackle this subject, it should be said that the title, Good Design Is Good Business is from 1973 lecture at the University of Pennsylvania, Thomas Watson Jr delivered, despite he was the father of it all almost immediately after his father’s demise when he became President, back in 1956, when he hired as the company’s design consultant Eliot Noyes.

There is the “oficial version” at IBM’s at 100’s commemorative site, created in 2011, where basically the history goes that Thomas Watson Jr, strolling the neighborhood of 590 Madison Av. NY headquarters was impressed with Olivetti’s typewriters shop, not only with the machines themselves, but with the brightness and modern looking of the building.  This was 1956 and I quote from the above site:

“In 1956, Watson Jr. hired as the company’s design consultant Eliot Noyes, a well-respected architect and former curator of industrial design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Noyes’s goal was to create a first-of-a-kind corporate design program that would encompass everything from IBM’s products, to its buildings, logos and marketing materials. The goal was much more than consistency of look and feel. It marked perhaps the first time in which a business organization itself—its management, operations and culture, as well as its products and marketing—was conceived of as an intentionally created product of the imagination, as a work of art. “In a sense, a corporation should be like a good painting; everything visible should contribute to the correct total statement; nothing visible should detract,” Noyes wrote.”

The rest is history and the first suggestion I have for readers is to read the entire entry on the quoted site, for starts.

If you can’t or does not want to buy the only book on the subject there is to it to my knowledge, it doesn’t matter, you can read only what it is offered on line by Amazon, which is enough. Including one review from an old timer IBM r, criticizing the book.

From the benefit of Internet and since we are now in 2018, you should read the the amazing tour de force from Thomas Haigh Communications of the ACM, Vol. 61 No. 1, Pages 32-37

Before I elaborate my considerations, after living there 22 years, let’s first take a look at a visual list of  10  IBM Design Gems:


Elliot Noyes, pictured, was an architect and former curator of industrial design  at MOMA,  NY and became responsible to implement a corporate design program not only to atend the huge expansion of plants and office but also graphic and industrial design. He personally designed the iconic IBM typewriter. Among the artists, designers and architects he hired were: Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, Marcel Breuer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

ibm logo history

Noyes hired Paul Rand which woul later modify again the IBM logo and the THINK

IBM 702 Display at 590 Madison Av. created by Elliot Noyes

IBM 702 at 590 Madison av NY

ibm-thomas watson jr



Eero Saarinen Rochester, Minn., 1958 IBM 576 000 sq feet facility


Eero Saarinen second building for IBM, the Thomas J Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY, completede in 1961


IBM Aerospace Defense building

IBM aerospace 1

The IBM Pavillion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, designed by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen.

IBM 1964 W Fair Pavillion

Mid 1960’s Isamu Noguchi Armonk Headquarters gardens

IBM Armonk I Noguchi gardens

Marcel Breuer and Thomas Tatjie Boca Raton, Flafacilities, 1970

IBM Boca RAton

Norman Foster, british architect IBM Pilot Head Office in Portsmouth, England, 1971

IBM Portsmouth

Mies van der Rohe 1971 (after his death in 1969) One IBM Plaza, Chicago (landmark, 2008)

IBM Chicago

II-Computing and human relationship “in deep” impression 

No body, architect, designer or anything else, contributed more than Charles and Ray Eames to making it possible to figure ou what happens inside of a computer, specially an IBM one. The subject will be covered using their approaches as it was possible ate the time they did it,  but a bit of consideration from the benefit of today (2018) is worth an attempt and the reader should go there and come back here:

What actually happens inside of a computer?

Charles and Ray Eames

Charles Ray Eames

“Charlie can put what a computer does into a little cartoon-like film and in the course of twelve minutes have everybody in the room understanding—how they work.” – Thomas Watson Jr.Designers and artists, Charles and Ray Eames created during their long career a prodigious body of work that includes sculpture, installation, film, photography, furniture and toys. The Eames Office was frequently hired to create educational installations for museums and companies that benefited from the couple’s experimental approach and pioneering use of innovative technologies. Charles and Ray Eames worked as design consultants for IBM from 1953 until their deaths in 1978 and 1988, respectively. That body of work includes exhibits and films for the IBM pavilions at the 1958, 1964, and 1968 world’s fairs, including the films The Information Machine: Creative Man and the Data Processor and Think. Their iconic 1968 film Powers of Tenremains a classic to this day.

(From IBM 100)

Although Charles and Ray Eames had projects which touched architecture, such as they participation in the IBM Pavillion of the World’s Fair ad 1964, their contribution deserves an understanding because what they did has a kind of its own.  It’s not obvious and subtle and it seems to me that because of that they haven’t yet deserved the differentiated role that they had in the imagery has in the back of every body’s mind of Big Blue. This can be perceived under the two sets of perception aforementioned:

  1. Predominant, prevalent, “to the eyes” impression
  2. Computer and human relationship “in deep” impression
 I -Predominant, prevalent, “to the eyes” impression

Supporting Great Design

For Watson Jr., greatness included a commitment to elegance in design and the finest in modern architecture. An IBM System 360 featured prominently in the recent TV show Mad Men, where its stylish complexity symbolized the rise of analytic approaches to advertising. Today the clean, confident design aesthetic of the 1950s and early 1960s is more popular than ever. Period houses, furniture, and consumer products sell for a premium. No company did more to popularize that aesthetic and bring it into the American mainstream than IBM.

As documented by John Harwood in his book The Interface: IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945–1976, IBM’s design chief, Eliot Noyes, assembled one of the most influential teams in history. Their skills were applied not only to the firm’s computers and office products, which received a unified and stylish industrial design language, but also to documentation, public exhibits, and architecture. IBM hired Charles and Ray Eames, probably best remembered today for their iconic chairs, to produce one of the earliest exhibits on the history of computing. Its landmark buildings, which hoisted the firm’s logo like a flag in the leading cities of the free world, were designed by star architects such as Mies van der Rohe.

IBM’s greatness also rested on its commitment to science. For its research headquarters, in Yorktown Heights, IBM turned to industrial architect Eero Saarinen, responsible for such futuristically iconic structures as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the TWA terminal at JFK airport. The lab curves in an oval shape, glowing in the dark like a flying saucer. Into the 1950s IBM retained a hands-on, product-centered engineering culture, long after Bell Labs and General Electric hired scientists and built up centralized research and development centers. By the 1960s, however, its international network of research facilities set the standard for corporate commitment to research. Its researchers, envisioned by Saarinen as “tweedy pipe-smoking men,” enjoyed the enviable conjunction of university-like research facilities with IBM’s generous pay and benefits and freedom from teaching duties. The firm’s Nobel prizes came from basic research into fields such as superconductivity and electron microscopy. IBM’s willingness to fund basic science reflected the many possibilities for payback across the huge range of products it developed and manufactured, from semiconductors and core memories to disk drives, keyboards, punched cards, printers, and dictating machines.

From 1853 to 1978, Charles and to 1988, Ray, were involved in the following projects: (Before that, take a look in this set of questions and answers):

1 – What is design?

The questions and answers below were the conceptual basis of the exhibition Qu’est ce que le design? (What is Design?) at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais de Louvre in 1972. Questions by Madame. L. Amic, answers by Charles and Ray Eames

During the interview, Charles Eames answers questions about the role and meaning of design in society but also the constraints in furniture and industrial design. The interview is a complete and interesting overview about the principles that drove Charles Eames across his fortunate and successful career as furniture designer, illustrator, movie director and architect.

Video Transcription:
Mme. L. Amic: What is your definition of “Design,” Monsieur Eames?
Mr. Eames: One could describe Design as a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose.

Mme. L. Amic: Is Design an expression of art?
Mr. Eames: I would rather say it’s an expression of purpose. It may, if it is good enough, later be judged as art.

Mme. L. Amic: Is Design a craft for industrial purposes?
Mr. Eames: No, but Design may be a solution to some industrial problems.

Mme. L. Amic: What are the boundaries of Design?
Mr. Eames: What are the boundaries of problems?

Mme. L. Amic: Is Design a discipline that concerns itself with only one part of the environment?
Mr. Eames: No.

Mme. L. Amic: Is it a method of general expression?
Mr. Eames: No, it is a method of action.

Mme. L. Amic: Is Design a creation of an individual?
Mr. Eames: No, because to be realistic. One must always recognize the influence of those that have gone before.

Mme. L. Amic: Is Design a creation of a group?
Mr. Eames: Very often.

Mme. L. Amic: Is there a Design ethic?
Mr. Eames: There are always Design constraints, and these often imply an ethic.

Mme. L. Amic: Does Design imply the idea of products that are necessarily useful?
Mr. Eames: Yes, even though the use might be very subtle.

Mme. L. Amic: Is it able to cooperate in the creation of works reserved solely for pleasure?
Mr. Eames: Who would say that pleasure is not useful?

Mme. L. Amic: Ought form to derive from the analysis of function?
Mr. Eames: The great risk here is that the analysis may be incomplete.

Mme. L. Amic: Can the computer substitute for the Designer?
Mr. Eames: Probably, in some special cases, but usually the computer is an aid to the Designer.

Mme. L. Amic: Does Design imply industrial manufacture?
Mr. Eames: Not necessarily.

Mme. L. Amic: Is Design used to modify an old object through new techniques?
Mr. Eames: This is one kind of Design problem.

Mme. L. Amic: Is Design used to fit up an existing model so that it is more attractive?
Mr. Eames: One doesn’t usually think of Design in this way.

Mme. L. Amic: Is Design an element of industrial policy?
Mr. Eames: If Design constraints imply an ethic, and if industrial policy includes ethical principles, then yes: Design is and element in an industrial policy.

Mme. L. Amic: Does the creation of Design admit constraint?
Mr. Eames: Design depends largely on constraints.

Mme. L. Amic: What constraints?
Mr. Eames: The sum of all constraints. Here is one of the few effective keys to the Design problem: The ability of the Designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible. His willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints- constraints of price, of size, of strength, of balance, of surface, of time, and so forth. Each problem has its own peculiar list.

Mme. L. Amic: Does Design obey laws?
Mr. Eames: Aren’t constraints enough?

Mme. L. Amic: Are there tendencies and schools in Design?
Mr. Eames: Yes, but these are more a measure of human limitations than of ideals.

Mme. L. Amic: Is Design ephemeral?
Mr. Eames: Some needs are ephemeral. Most Designs are ephemeral.

Mme. L. Amic: Ought Design to tend towards the ephemeral or towards permanence?
Mr. Eames: Those needs and Designs that have a more universal quality tend toward relative permanence.

Mme. L. Amic: How would you define yourself with respect to a decorator? an interior architect? a stylist?
Mr. Eames: I wouldn’t.

Mme. L. Amic: To whom does Design address itself: to the greatest number? to the specialists or the enlightened amateur? to a privileged social class?
Mr. Eames: Design addresses itself to the need.

Mme. L. Amic: After having answered all these questions, do you feel you have been able to practice the profession of “Design” under satisfactory conditions, or even optimum conditions?
Mr. Eames: Yes.

Mme. L. Amic: Have you been forced to accept compromises?
Mr. Eames: I don’t remember ever being forced to accept compromises, but I have willingly accepted constraints.

Mme. L. Amic: What do you feel is the primary condition for the practice of Design and for its propagation?
Mr. Eames: The recognition of need.

Mme. L. Amic: What is the future of Design?

…. (no answer, perhaps Eames already dit it when saying The recognition of need… which, after all, it is also the past and the present…)

2- A Computer Perspective

From the perspective of today (2018) probably the best start is to  look carefully at the book which resulted from a permanent exposition IBM used to have at 590 Madison Av. NY, at the floor level about the inception of the computer.

3 – Mathematica: A World of Numbers… and Beyond

4 – Powers of Ten

How it started for private Companies or Bridging the gap

The MIT Press Series in the History of Computing, back in 1986 started with fourbooks:

  1. Memories That Shaped an Industry
  2. Memoirs of a Compter Pioneer
  3. IBM’s Early Computers
  4. The Computer Comes of Age

Perhaps with the first three, because the fourth appeared before as a translation separately.

I haven’t so far had or read the first one, which as it can be seen in the title, although it is a pun, is concerned with ferrite memories.  It seems to me that it is a detailed account of what is already at those listed here and perhaps it is redundant. If price is no objection, what it is not my case, it should be bought. Perhaps a word of caution about these books. Maybe there is an excessive emphasis on the technological side what makes it incomprehensible if not boring for the average reader. But contains information that if properly filtered, as I think I am doing here, it is not only accurate, but brings up a correct perspective on the subject, specially on what it may contain of truth.

Although, as it says at the opening of the foreword of the IBM’s Early Computers a technology centered account and not a business history, it provides excellent light on how business sort of commanded the technological aspects of those early computers and eventually took over the design, i.e., the first mass produced computer, the 1401, was basically designed with customer needs in mind.

There is a tendency to imagine IBM a giant, if not bigger, such as General Motors, Ford, GE and the like. Including that for a number of years, perhaps a whole generation, IBM was the most valuable brand in the world and today (2018) it still ranks around 80 billion dollars in the first five.

Before discussing the image of IBM and how it got to be, what I will do at the end of his post and in the next,  let’s discuss its growth and how it got first big and then got the image. By the way it is not and it never was what it seems to be… How come and what do I mean?

In  1925 it had a mere 3698 employees and a gross income of 13 million dollars worldwide.

Let’s take an example of the Big Ones. Ford had only in the USA 14000 thousand employees and a gross income in the 100 million dollars range. When facing financial trouble in the 20’s, it managed to amass almost 30 million cash demanding his distributors to pay cash on delivery of its automobiles. After that, it is what it is well known up to WW II.

On the other and, by 1935, right on the eye of the Depression, IBM had 8654 employees and a gross income of 21 million and it was and would remain for some 50 years one of the very best places to work with

I should quote from History of IBM on Wikiwand

1930–1938: The Great Depression

Year Gross income (in $m) Employees
1930 19 6,346
1935 21 8,654

The Great Depression of the 1930s presented an unprecedented economic challenge, and Watson met the challenge head on, continuing to invest in people, manufacturing, and technological innovation despite the difficult economic times. Rather than reduce staff, he hired additional employees in support of President Franklin Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration plan – not just salesmen, which he joked that he had a lifelong weakness for, but engineers too. Watson not only kept his workforce employed, he increased their benefits. IBM was among the first corporations to provide group life insurance (1934), survivor benefits (1935) and paid vacations (1936). He upped his ante on his workforce by opening the IBM Schoolhouse in Endicott to provide education and training for IBM employees. And he greatly increased IBM’s research capabilities by building a modern research laboratory on the Endicott manufacturing site.

With all this internal investment, Watson was, in essence, gambling on the future. It was IBM’s first ‘Bet the Company’ gamble, but the risk paid off handsomely. Watson’s factories, running full tilt for six years with no market to sell to, created a huge inventory of unused tabulating equipment, straining IBM’s resources. To reduce the cash drain, the struggling Dayton Scale Division (the food services equipment business) was sold in 1933 to Hobart Manufacturing for stock.[55][56] When the Social Security Act of 1935 – labeled as “the biggest accounting operation of all time”[57] – came up for bid, IBM was the only bidder that could quickly provide the necessary equipment. Watson’s gamble brought the company a landmark government contract to maintain employment records for 26 million people. IBM’s successful performance on the contract soon led to other government orders, and by the end of the decade IBM had not only safely negotiated the Depression, but risen to the forefront of the industry. Watson’s Depression-era decision to invest heavily in technical development and sales capabilities, education to expand the breadth of those capabilities, and his commitment to the data processing product line laid the foundation for 50 years of IBM growth and successes.

Back to IBM’s Early Computers

One very important aspect not quite well understood: A huge amount of IBM’s money came for some 50 years from the punched card itself and machines projected, developed and built around its logic. Since a punched card is basically a memory unit, anything related to memory means of storing information was always screened with that in mind… Despite of that, these machines could, if properly wired, do scientific computation. It is worth mentioning that the paper tape width which feed the MARK I was 3.25 inches exactly that of the punched card.

Watson would continue to gamble on the future, footing the bill of Mark I and keeping a full fledged laboratory at Endicott for research and development. But the experience left four sets of problems that would be in the back of Watson Sr.’s mind:

  1. As a novel machine, the first problem was to find a suitable characterization. News paper called it “Super brain”, “algebra machine” and Harvard University issued a press release using: “Algebraic super brain”
  2. Aiken submitted a press release only to the US Navy, which by arrangement had the sole use of the calculator and it read: “In charge of the calculator is the inventor Commander Howard H.Aiken, USNR, who worked out the theory which made the machine possible.’ This twice outraged Watson, first for the slight he suffered and second for the implied insult  to his men in the singular use of the term inventor. This cooled any further collaboration between IBM and Harvard.
  3. A third quandary concerned on how to portray of the ASCC Mark I power when compared to other systems. Comparisons tend to oversimplification and practicality and can only provide rough indication of relative system speeds. The basic reference was a manual operator clerk equipped with a desk calculator of the day which might take close to a minute to enter a multiplier, with perhaps 15 seconds for the product and copy the result. This was ten times more than what an IBM Type 601 took to multiply and punch a card. The ASCC Mark I would do it 100 times faster than the manual calculator and would do it for long periods of time without fatigue. If used on a 24 hour a day schedule, it could produce in a day what a manual calculator would produce in 6 months..
  4. The name. Convenience and the English language calls for short name or pronounceable acronym. The Mark I, followed by II, III and IV was Aiken’s idea and Harvard’s ASCC came to be known as Mark I.


These factors were behind the idea of Watson Sr. to surpass the ASCC Mark I, because the events challenged him. He gave order to McPherson, his engineering director, to create a calculating instrument faster than the ASCC. Vacuum tubes or Radio tubes were the option as a result of wartime developments.

IBM Engineering was heavily bent toward mechanical design. It would take a while and hundreds of novel circuits which granted patents and made IBM perhaps the most prolific patent aplications company in history. After successful creation of electronic flip flops, counters and finally an Electronic Multiplier, IBM was set to create such a machine as Watson Sr. had in mind and it was to be the SSEC, the Super Calculator.

It is very interesting that the fact that a machine could perform calculation by means of electronics was a novelty for IBM and impressed very much “Tom” Watson Jr, eldest son of Thomas Watson Sr. His interest and support provided impetus for the production of the first 50 machines,  designated IBM 603 Electronic Multiplier, demonstrated at the National Business Shoe in N Y City late September 1946. It was the first electronic calculator ever placed in production. It was followed by the IBM 604 Elecronic Calculator.

The Genesis of the SSEC is rather long to be discussed here, but summing it up, with the end of the war with Japan in August 1945, IBM’s engineering organization was abain free to runt its energies to peace time projects.

At the summer of 1945, Robert R.”Rex” Seeber, a Harvard graduate of 1932, long interested in computation, joined IBM. He had spent as a civilian in the Navy Department a year and a half in operations research and worked under Aiken, which rejected his suggestions about how a computer should be designed, which included the storing instructions and operating on them as data, as it is well known  is the idea of von Neumann and would take over the computer industry. He disparaged with Aiken, which was stubbornly  impervious to such idea and eventually entered IBM still determined to test his ideas. His disagreement with Aiken found him sympathetic toward IBM. This set his leaving Harvard and going to IBM.

About two months Seeber joined IBM, there was a meeting held in Poughkeepsie about the Super calculator, or how it was then referred, the “Sequence Calculator”, and Seeber described from his experiences with the Mark I, its shortcomings:

  • Lack of compatible instruction and data formats (and hence inability to operate on its own instructions);
  • Inflexibility of subroutine control;
  • Inability to record in large-scale (paper-tape) storage;
  • Inadequate speed of table look-up

A lot of effort took place and many extremely competent and creative people helped to create a working model of the SSEC which was then transferred from Endicott to 590 Madison Avenue headquarters of IBM in New York, with the engineering moving in together with it.

Oracle on 57th street


Then came the IBM 604

The IBM 602 was IBM’s first machine that did division. (The IBM 601, introduced in 1931, only multiplied.) Like other IBM calculators, it was programmed using a control panel. Input data was read from a punched card, the results could be punched in the same card or a trailing card.

IBM 603 First Commercial Electronic Calculator

IBM 604 Electronic Calculating Punch


The bridge between the  SSEC and those machines was to be brought about under the Magnetic Storage Calculator project, in Endicott, because there was a growing influence in the company’s affairs creating a need for marketing and product support of scientific computing. It should be a reduced capacity SSEC and it was to be offered by the sales force to people interested in doing technical calculations on IBM machines.

At the Endicott Scientific Computation Forum in the summer of 1948, Beech Aircraft Corporation presented a paper describing three dimensional flutter analysis of aircraft structures and other engineering applications done with a 601 and a  405. IBM people never heard of that and they set at the spring of 1949 a “Scientific Sales Program” hiring four men to do it. Among then was Walter H. Johnson, who would establish IBM’s Technical Computing Bureau in New York City, which would perform contract service for performing scientific and engineering computations. The centerpiece was the IBM 604. To that it was added new post with promotion of technical computation as a principal responsibility. Cuthbert C. Hurd, who had presented a paper at the 1948 Forum, was assigned to this new job. Hurd was a mathematics professor for 10 years, having had extensive experience with IBM machines, specially for statistics. He used his experience to install similar services for the US Coast Guard Academy. He also set up a technical computing service at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, concerned with production of Uranium when he had a chance to perform the computation needed for the famous John von Neumann diffusion process. These jobs tended to be long slow computations and Hurd perceived that computing machinery was about to become a significant element in society. With that in mind he asked for a job to Mr. Watson, Sr, who accepted him and he started to work at IBM on March 1rst 1949.

Hurd was pleased to find that Frank Hamilton in Endicott had been working for a year on the Intermediate Sequence Calculator for technical applications. But Watson, Jr.’s, redefinition of the machine in May 1949 as an improved 604 for business applications was a pointed reminder that the bulk of IBM’s business derived from applications outside the scientific field. When the CPC was announced, therefore, Hurd decided to make it the focus of his activities. He began a description of the CPC for the 1949 Scientific Computation Seminar, which he had been asked to organize, and supervised the writing of the CPC instruction manual. 36 In this period Hurd established a one-week session in Endicott during which customer personnel could program and run problems on the CPC prior to delivery of their own machine.”
The 1949 Scientific Computation Seminar attracted so much advance interest that two sessions were scheduled, one of three days in November and a second of five days in December. Watson, Jr., by now executive vice-president, was pleased by CPC orders, which reached over two dozen by year end, and by the customer list, which was a who’s who of the airframe industry and of important government agencies and laboratories. Soon after the November meeting, Watson Sr., made Hurd the director of a new department, Applied Science, with responsibility for the Technical Computing Bureau and instructions to hire and train as many “Applied Science Representatives” as were needed to demonstrate and promote the technical computing capabilities ofIBM machines. Thus the Scientific Sales Program was reborn, this time with support from the top.” Hurd recruited actively on college campuses in 1950, participated in making the CPC modifications demanded by some users, and sought ways to extend the benefits of information exchange – so apparent at the 1948 and 1949 Scientific Computation forums he had attended – to more users. He acted on a suggestion of Dunwell, who after visiting ten prospective CPC customers in the spring of 1949,40 had proposed a “national department in a position to visit this type of customer regularly and to prepare special bulletins” from which customers could learn of “methods developed by others with similar problems. In June 1950, the first issue of the IBM Applied Science Department Technical Newsletter appeared. An informal publication, it contained four papers describing useful IBM 604 general-purpose, control-panel wiring arrangements. In effect, these were 604 “programs” for calculating frequently used sets of mathematical functions, which, in the form of wired control panels, could be used for the solution of a variety of specific problems on the 604 an the CPC. One of the papers was by an IBMer, the other three by CPC customers.

The stage was set to the conversion of IBM from a mechanical relay oriented kind of machinery to a electronic tube oriented kind of machinery.

There was a lot of quarrel and discussions on how to combine properly the vital elements which make a successful product come to existence:

  1. A consistent set o figures on manufacturing costs
  2. Projected rentals
  3. market forecasts spelling profit
  4. A genuine interest of a corporate or marketing executive of the company

By late 1952 IBM 604 and IBM CPC  were on the verge of obsolescence having no chance to compete with the small stored program computers which were being offered by competitors as replacement to IBM CPC. (Consolidated Engineering Corporation 30-201, Computer Research Corporation 102-A  and Underwood Corporation Elecon 100). The 604 was being threatened by Remington Rand 409.

There was no agreement inside IBM Engineerign on what to do.

Thomas Watson, Jr, took over and decided on the Magnetic Drum Calculator project, which would become the IBM 650 Magnetic Drum Calculator which would become IBM 650 RAMAC and there is a contention wheter if it was the first mass produced computer or the 1401. Besides being solid state, in cheer numbers, the 1401 is the Ford Model T of the computer industry.

On paralel, IBM was developing a Tape Processing Machines program.

Quoting again from History of IBM on Wikiwand

1946–1959: Postwar recovery, rise of business computing, space exploration, the Cold War

Year Gross income (in $m) Employees
1950 266 30,261
1955 696 56,297
1960 1,810 104,241

IBM had expanded so much by the end of the War that the company faced a potentially difficult situation – what would happen if military spending dropped sharply? One way IBM addressed that concern was to accelerate its international growth in the years after the war, culminating with the formation of the World Trade Corporation in 1949 to manage and grow its foreign operations. Under the leadership of Watson’s youngest son, Arthur K. ‘Dick’ Watson, the WTC would eventually produce half of IBM’s bottom line by the 1970s.

A new IBM emerged in the 1950s. With the death of Founding Father Thomas J. Watson, Sr. on June 19, 1956 at age 82, IBM experienced its first leadership change in more than four decades. The mantle of chief executive fell to his eldest son, Thomas J. Watson, Jr., IBM’s president since 1952.

The new chief executive faced a daunting task. The company was in the midst of a period of rapid technological change, with nascent computer technologies – electronic computers, magnetic tape storage, disk drives, programming – creating new competitors and market uncertainties. Internally, the company was growing by leaps and bounds, creating organizational pressures and significant management challenges. Lacking the force of personality that Watson Sr. had long used to bind IBM together, Watson Jr. and his senior executives privately wondered if the new generation of leadership was up to challenge of managing a company through this tumultuous period.[96] “We are,” wrote one longtime IBM executive in 1956, “in grave danger of losing our “eternal” values that are as valid in electronic days as in mechanical counter days.”

Watson Jr. responded by drastically restructuring the organization mere months after his father died, creating a modern management structure that enabled him to more effectively oversee the fast moving company.[97] He codified well known but unwritten IBM practices and philosophy into formal corporate policies and programs – such as IBM’s Three Basic Beliefs, and Open Door and Speak Up! Perhaps the most significant of which was his shepherding of the company’s first equal opportunity policy letter into existence in 1953, 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.[98] He continued to expand the company’s physical capabilities – in 1952 IBM San Jose launched a storage development laboratory which pioneered disk drives. Major facilities would later follow in Rochester, Minnesota; Greencastle, Indiana; Kingston, New York; and Lexington, Kentucky. Concerned that IBM was too slow in adapting transistor technology Watson requested a corporate policy regarding their use, resulting in this unambiguous 1957 product development policy statement: “It shall be the policy of IBM to use solid-state circuitry in all machine developments. Furthermore, no new commercial machines or devices shall be announced which make primary use of tube circuitry.”[99]

Watson Jr. also continued to partner with the United States government to drive computational innovation. The emergence of the Cold War accelerated the government’s growing awareness of the significance of digital computing, and drove major Department of Defense supported computer development projects in the 1950s. Of these, none was more important than the SAGE interceptor early detection air defense system.

IBM 7090 installation

In 1952, IBM began working with MIT’s Lincoln Laboratories to finalize the design of an air defense computer. The merger of academic and business engineering cultures proved troublesome, but the two organizations finally hammered out a design by the summer of 1953, and IBM was awarded the contract to build two prototypes in September.[100] In 1954, IBM was named as the primary computer hardware contractor for developing SAGE for the United States Air Force. Working on this massive computing and communications system, IBM gained access to pioneering research being done at Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the first real-time, digital computer. This included working on many other computer technology advancements such as magnetic core memory, a large real-time operating system, an integrated video displaylight guns, the first effective algebraic computer language, analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion techniques, digital data transmission over telephone linesduplexingmultiprocessing, and geographically distributed networks). IBM built fifty-six SAGE computers at the price of US$30 million each, and at the peak of the project devoted more than 7,000 employees (20% of its then workforce) to the project. SAGE had the largest computer footprint ever, and continued in service until 1984.[101]

More valuable to IBM in the long run than the profits from governmental projects, however, was the access to cutting-edge research into digital computers being done under military auspices. IBM neglected, however, to gain an even more dominant role in the nascent industry by allowing the RAND Corporation to take over the job of programming the new computers, because, according to one project participant, Robert P. Crago, “we couldn’t imagine where we could absorb two thousand programmers at IBM when this job would be over some day, which shows how well we were understanding the future at that time.”[102] IBM would use its experience designing massive, integrated real-time networks with SAGE to design its SABRE airline reservation system, which met with much success.

These government partnerships, combined with pioneering computer technology research and a series of commercially successful products (IBM’s 700 series of computer systems, the IBM 650, the IBM 305 RAMAC (with disk drive memory), and the IBM 1401) enabled IBM to emerge from the 1950s as the world’s leading technology firm. Watson Jr. had answered his self-doubt. In the five years since the passing of Watson Sr., IBM was two and a half times bigger, its stock had quintupled, and of the 6000 computers in operation in the United States, more than 4000 were IBM machines.[103]

1960–1968: The System/360 era

Year Gross income (in $m) Employees
1955 696 56,297
1960 1,810 104,241
1965 3,750 172,445
1970 7,500 269,291

On April 7, 1964, IBM introduced the revolutionary System/360, the first large “family” of computers to use interchangeable software and peripheral equipment, a departure from IBM’s existing product line of incompatible machines, each of which was designed to solve specific customer requirements.[127] The idea of a general-purpose machine was considered a gamble at the time.[128]

Within two years, the System/360 became the dominant mainframe computer in the marketplace and its architecture became a de facto industry standard. During this time, IBM transformed from a medium-sized maker of tabulating equipment and typewriters into the world’s largest computer company.[129]

The company began four decades of Olympic sponsorship with the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, California. It became a recognized leader in corporate social responsibility, joining federal equal opportunity programs in 1962, opening an inner city manufacturing plant in 1968, and creating a minority supplier program. It led efforts to improve data security and protect privacy. It set environmental air/water emissions standards that exceeded those dictated by law, and brought all its facilities into compliance with those standards. It opened one of the world’s most advanced research centers in Yorktown, New York. Its international operations grew rapidly, producing more than half of IBM’s revenues by the early 1970s and through technology transfer shaping the way governments and businesses operated around the world. Its personnel and technology played an integral role in the space program and landing the first men on the moon in 1969. In that same year it changed the way it marketed its technology to customers, unbundling hardware from software and services, effectively launching today’s multibillion-dollar software and services industry. See unbundling of software and services, below. It was massively profitable, with a nearly fivefold increase in revenues and earnings during the 1960s.

This is about the size and the Gross Income which IBM would stabilize and still remains (2018). This all happened under  Thomas J. Watson, Jr., who was effectively who turned IBM in to what it became. He was also responsible for the image the company has, what is rarely discussed and I take the opportunity to do it at: