Seeing IBM as it was,
A Retired IBMers' View and Experiences.
By John J. Sailors, 6/2011(latest revision)
IBM's unique corporate culture was more than a business; it was a family with feelings of responsibility and obligation to its employees, its customers and the communities in which they all lived. This paper is a review of IBM's history starting in 1914, an inside look at IBM from 1956 to 1993 and a brief look at IBM financial performance from 1993 to 2002 as seen by an outsider. I'm proud to have been a part of the IBM heritage.
- The Author,
- The IBM Beginning
Tom Watson Sr.
C-T-R and IBM
Tom Jr. and Dick Watson
- The IBM Corporate Philosophy
Respect for the Individual
- The IBM Culture
Respect for the Individual
Speak-ups, Executive interviews, Opinion surveys
Employee benefits and compensation
Employee Performance Plans
Marketing and sales commission plan
A real sales situation
More on education and marketing
- Evolution of Data Processing Technology
More on IBM technology
- The Marketplace, 50,60,70's
- Overview of the IBM Organization, 1988
- IBM Financial Growth, 1967 to 2001
Revenue, earnings, profit- 1988 to 2001
Stock performance- 1991 to 2001
Workforce- 1993 to 2001
Author: John J. Sailors
spent 37 years with IBM, 1956 to 1993, starting with punched card systems, the
650, 1401, 1440, 305 Ramac, 1620, 1130 up through the System 360/370 and the
PC. Half of that time was spent in the
U.S. Company as a Marketing Representative, Regional Special Representative for
Banking, Marketing Manager and Branch Manager. During that time I was based in
second half of my career, beginning in 1973, was spent in IBM World Trade with
the Americas/Far East Corporation. (A/FE was responsible for
finished my IBM career in
During this 37-year period my family moved 17 times and IBM annual revenues grew from $800 million to over $65 billion.
high school in Newport Beach, California I spent 4 years in the U.S. Air Force,
(1948-1952) the last 2 ˝ years in Tokyo during the Japanese Occupation and the
Korean War. This was after attending and
being an instructor at the Air Force/IBM punched card training school at Lowry
Air Force Base in
the military, I attended
retirement from IBM in 1993, I
served as a consultant to the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group in organizing
Workforce Silicon Valley, a federally funded "School to Work"
program. Also Co-chaired the Workforce Board of Directors whose members
included 11 school superintendents, 2 community college presidents and a
comparable number of private sector executives.
spent time as a consultant to the
this activity I became the first Executive Director of the
Currently (2007) I’m a member of the Chabot/Las Positas Community College District, Measure B Bond, Citizens Oversight Committee which is spending $498 million over 5 years on new physical facilities. The two schools have over 21,000 students.
I’am also a member of Livermore Rotary, Pleasanton SIRS (Sons in Retirement) and the Pleasanton Men’s Club.
The IBM Beginning:
Tom Watson Sr.
In the late 1800's a gentleman by the name of Tom Watson Sr. (not to be confused with current golfer with the same name) started his business career as a teenager selling pianos and sewing machines across the countryside from a horse and buggy. He later joined the National Cash Register Company (NCR) as a salesman and in 18 years rose to general sales manager of the company. After a fall-out with NCR president John H. Patterson, he resigned in 1913 with a severance package of $50,000.
C-T-R and IBM
In 1914 at the age of 40, Mr. Watson became the general manager of Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (C-T-R), which 10 years later, in 1924, changed its name to International Business Machines (IBM). He would lead this company for the next 42 years, until the age of 82. C-T-R products included commercial scales, meat and cheese slicers, industrial time-recording equipment and tabulators and punched cards. See copy of Watson letter on following page dated February 13, 1924 changing CTR name to IBM.
Prior to leaving NCR, Cash, as the company was called, Mr. Watson and several other Cash executives were convicted of anti-trust law violations for activities to control the secondary market in NCR cash registers. Mr. Watson was sentenced to a year in prison. Later, after he joined C-T-R, his case was thrown out on appeal and the Justice Department elected not to try him again. This experience probably hardened his attitude toward the U.S. Justice Department, especially in later Anti-Trust actions filed against IBM. More on this later.
In later years Mr. Watson coined the phrases "World Peace Through World Trade" and "There is no saturation point in education" and the word “THINK” which was used frequently in IBM employee and customer publications.
“Think” signs hung on the walls of all IBM locations worldwide under a picture of Tom Watson Sr. All of our customers were provided with wall and desk size THINK signs in several languages around the world. See below.
Tom Watson Sr.
Tabulators and punched cards were the invention of Dr. Herman Hollerith and they were first used in tabulating the U.S. Census of 1890. These machines became the forerunner of today's' very common computer systems. See classroom presentation outline on the History of Data Processing in appendix.
Dr. Ken Kraemer a professor
at UC Irvine visited the Hollerith family winery in
Time equipment was also a very visible early product. They were used as time
clocks for punching in and out of work and were seen as wall clocks in many
schools and businesses. I have a 1920's working model of the Time Clock that
was manufactured by the International Time Recording Co. in Endicott
In 1933 IBM purchased a company that made electric typewriters. After 13 years of initial losses, a new General Manager, Wiz Miller took over and from 1949 on posted 30% annual growth rates up through the 1970's. This was highlighted by the announcement of the IBM Selectric Typewriter that used a round ball as a print element and a correcting feature that could remove print from the page. This division later also sold dictation equipment and copiers. The typewriter division required an aggressive, smooth talking type of salesperson who was capable of making lots of cold prospect calls and demos at the secretary level. IBM was very good at moving these products.
IBM also manufactured and marketed Bank Proof Machines (802 and 803) for sorting, listing and totaling checks. These were 24 or 32 separate adding machines with tapes and a rotating drum with pockets to sort the checks by the bank drawn-on number. These bank sorted checks, with adding machine control tapes attached, went for posting to individual customer account ledger cards or to the clearing house meetings for exchange with other “drawn on” banks. Each individual check had to be handled manually several times in this labor intensive accounting process.
In the late 50's IBM Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) systems took over this application area.
readable numbers pre-printed at the bottom of the checks identified the bank
and their customer account number and a proof like machine was used to encode
the amount of the check, also in magnetic ink. From there we used high speed
MICR sorter/readers to sequence the checks and provide direct input to
computers for processing. We had good competition from Burroughs and for a
short time General Electric who built an early system called ERMA exclusively
for the Bank of America. By co-incidence I was the IBM sales-rep. assigned to
the GE manufacturing group in
Another early IBM product was the 805 Test Scoring Machine invented by a teacher Reynolds Johnson who I will talk about later in this text. Using a high graphite pencil the student would mark their multiple choice test answers in a prescribed area on a standard piece of paper and the machine would read these pencil marks and score each test. IBM also had a mark sense reading card punch, which was used in several accounting applications. Graphite pencil marks on the card in prescribed areas would be read and cause the corresponding numbers to be punched back into the same card. It was a great way to decentralize data input to the point of the transaction occurrence.
In the late 80's on-line computer terminals and later Personal Computers began to take over the functions of the electric typewriter and copiers. The IBM typewriter business was sold to Lexmark..
the late 70’s and early 80’s prior to the PC with Internet connections IBM
developed a proprietary system called PROFS, (Professional Office System) which
became an IBM dedicated worldwide network that could do word-processing and
e-mail. We could talk on-line to IBM
offices in 120 countries. Our terminals
were simple Cathode-ray tubes (3270) connected to IBM mainframes and a
dedicated satellite system. I could
sign–on anywhere in the network. I can
specifically remember doing “pass-thru” on a business trip to
The IBM Corporate Philosophy:
Under the leadership of Tom Watson Sr. a unique corporate philosophy was developed that included:
Give full consideration to the individual employee.
Spend a lot of time making the customers happy.
Go the last mile to do the thing right.
Under Tom Watson Jr. this business philosophy was codified into the "IBM Basic Beliefs:"
- Respect for the Individual, Respect for the dignity and rights of each person in the organization.
- Customer Service, To give the best customer service of any company in the world.
- Excellence, The conviction that an organization should pursue all tasks with the objective of accomplishing them in a superior way.
The “IBM Basic Beliefs” were prominently displayed in all IBM offices and I still have one of these displays. See attached.
To show how strongly Mr. Watson Jr believed in this Corporate Philosophy I would cite the following quotes from Tom Watson Jr's Columbia University Lecture Series.
"A corporation's beliefs must always come before policies, practices and goals. The latter must always be altered if they violate these fundamental beliefs."
"We have got to have a concept that IBM is special. Once you get that concept, it is very easy to give the amount of drive to work toward making it continue to be true."
The IBM Culture:
From 1914 to 1993 company policies were developed and practiced to support a business philosophy that became known as the IBM culture.
- Respect for the Individual, This policy was implemented by management and personnel practices such as full employment, benefits and compensation, employee recognition, open doors, speak-ups, executive interviews, opinion surveys, etc. all of which will be discussed in more detail in this section.
- Full employment, everyone is
guaranteed a job except for failure to perform. This practice remained in force
from 1914 thru the depression of the 30’s to 1993, a total of 79 years. Very specific
annual performance plans, grading and re-deployment were a part of this policy.
Quoting from the book The IBM Way by Buck Rodgers, "during
the economical problems of 1969-72 IBM moved over 12,000 employees from plants,
labs and headquarters with light workloads to locations where they were
needed. 5000 of these people were
retrained for new careers in sales, customer engineering, field administration
and programming." IBM also had a
practice against in-house promotions and world trade limited
Until recently most Japanese corporate culture also included full employment.
- Dress code: white shirts, ties, conservative suits and, in the earlier days, hats were required on the job. I had to buy a hat to attend the IBM application and sales schools in Endicott. According to Mr. Watson Sr.," Everyone should look prosperous and successful in the eyes of the customer." This applied to all customer contact personnel including maintenance and service.
- No alcohol: alcohol was not permitted during the workday or at any company employee or customer functions. This policy was still in place when the author retired in 1993.
- Open Door: all employees have direct access to the IBM Chairman or intermediate managers for any job related suggestions or grievances. In the mid 50's Tom Watson Jr.'s office handled about 300 open doors each year. This was great training ground for Executive Assistants who were on the high potential list for future promotions. This also helped IBM to remain free of unions, which is still true today.
A Personal Experience
had a personal experience in this area when I was Branch Manager for
Watson Jr. and
- Speak-ups, Executive Interviews, Opinion Surveys: All employees were encouraged to write signed or anonymous Speak-up letters to management on any grievance or suggestions for improving the business. This provided excellent feedback on employee-manager relations, employee morale and the state of the business. Many of these Speak-ups would find themselves the subject of Management Briefing Letters to all managers in IBM and changes in policy and practice would sometimes follow. See "IBM World Trade Americas/Far East Corporation brochure "On Managing" dated April 1978 in appendix.
IBM employees were also invited to have Executive Interviews periodically with managers one or more levels above their current assignment. These were considered private and confidential, and again provided excellent feedback on employee-manager relationships, employee morale and the state of the business. This was also further pressure on immediate management to be sensitive to morale and their own man/manager relationships.
Annual Opinion Surveys were conducted throughout IBM and offices and organizations were graded. These included questions on how you rated your immediate and higher managers. A low opinion survey rating for your office or organization would invite a lot of outside attention.
-Employee benefits and compensation: Benefits were all non-contributory (IBM paid all of the costs) which included pensions, health care, education, etc. IBM stock options were extended to the most senior executives and a stock purchase plan was available to all employees at 85% of the current market price. The Pension program, in my case provides about 50% of the last IBM salary with half of this amount going to the surviving spouse. In the 80's IBM established a 401k TSDP (Time Savings Deposit Program), which allowed each IBM employee to withhold 8% of their salary for a mutual fund investment, and IBM would match 50 cents on the dollar for the first 6%. They also offered Group Life Insurance and Long Term Care Insurance programs through private carriers. Today retirees do pay for health care coverage with medicare as prime.
During World War II IBM paid 25% of an employee's salary while they were in military service. This provided a strong incentive for these employees to return to IBM after the war ended.
In January of 1958 IBM put all hourly manufacturing employees on salaries. This was the first major U.S. Corporation to make this change and was another defense against possible unionization.
- Employee Performance Plans: All IBM employees had annual performance plans and reviews. The objectives were usually set at the beginning of the year and if there were any performance problems during the year, periodic reviews would be held. The grading on these reviews (1 thru 5) determined the size and frequency of your next merit increase in salary. A 1 rating was Far Exceeded, (walks on water) 2 was Consistently Exceeded, 3 Exceeded at Times, 4 Need to Improve and a 5 rating meant that the employee was on a documented improvement program. A multiple year 4 rating or a single year 5 was usually grounds to manage that person out of the company. Employee ranking was sometimes used to further validate performance ratings within a peer group. Rankings were also used in 1993 to make the very first employee layoff decisions. As an example of the Performance Plan process, I have included one of my performance plans and evaluation in the appendix.
- Employee Education: Marketing training in the
50's included eight weeks of punch-card machine training near your point of
hire, in my case Los Angeles, and this included card design, machine operation
and learning to wire the control panels; then eight weeks of application
training in Endicott New York, learning how to do the many accounting applications
on punched card systems such as billing, accounts receivable, inventory,
payroll, etc. This was followed by
approximately six months working in a branch office as a junior salesman,
making cold prospect calls and helping customers plan and implement punched
card applications, in my case wiring the 607 Calculator control panels for the
payroll application at the City of
-Employee Overseas Assignments and Organization
IBM overseas country organizations were staffed with indigenous English
speaking personnel and in most cases in the 70’s and 80’s the country General
Managers were on assignment from an English Speaking Country. The one exception
overseas living allowances for assignees were very attractive and included
housing, tax assistance, cost of living and private schools for their children
plus family home leaves once a year. College age children were flown to the
overseas locations for summer and Christmas vacations each year. IBM also
covered interest and maintenance costs on your
loans were provided by IBM which were forgiven by grossing up the employees W2
withholding when they returned from assignment. It cost IBM an average of
$500,000 per year to have a family on assignment in
One of those, Bobby Romulo, became IBM Country GM and later Foreign Minister of the
- Marketing and Sales Commission Plan: At the completion of training, you assumed a sales and installation quota and salary plus commission, (initially 60% salary and 40% commission) branch office sales territory that had a limited number of existing customers and a lot of prospects. A dollar in revenue equaled a quota point. In the 50’s when I went on quota all IBM products were rented, with a 90-day cancellation notice, so the salesman had a commission liability to protect the existing rental revenue in the territory as well as, a rental growth quota for selling and installing new equipment. This meant that if you or someone else had collected the original commission on the equipment sale or equipment installation to this customer and sometime during your responsibility for this customer he elected to take out any of the IBM equipment or cancel any on-order equipment, you had to pay back the commissions originally earned by the selling or installing salesman. This kept you totally tied to the success of this customer and his satisfactory use of IBM systems. (this was called the charge-back system)
was a major emphasis and cash bonus for signing up new customers. I had 25
"new name accounts" during 5 years of direct sales responsibility in
In government marketing, a strong emphasis was put on Pre-procurement marketing, which meant having a strong influence on the terms, conditions and product definitions contained in the formal Request for Proposal (RFP). This was a fine line to walk because the amount of influence you had could be challenged in a post award protest hearing. I will talk about an actual protest situation in a later section. However if no pre-procurement marketing was done then it was a good probability that we would not bid on the RFP. These procurements were normally longer in length than private sector marketing opportunities, so the salesmen were on a 90% salary and 10% commission plan. In government procurements, "Benchmarks" were usually required. This meant that you had to take a running program from the customers currently installed computer system, regardless of vendor, and show that you could run it faster on the proposed new system, i.e. "Benchmark."
A real sales
the case of the National Reactor Test Station (NRTS) procurement in southern
Idaho, we had to take two hours of application running time on the currently
installed system (in this case CDC, Control Data Corporation computer) and
compress this to 30 minutes on the proposed 360 IBM System.
a short rest stop in a motel, we climbed back aboard the F-27 at 6 A.M. and
started flying towards
The Benchmark demonstration went flawlessly with members of the evaluation team monitoring every computer device with stopwatches. The Poughkeepsie test center was under going some renovation at the time and during the Benchmark a workman came into the room and used the top of one of the CPU boxes as a work bench to drill a hole into a piece of wood. Luckily it had no affect on our benchmark.
next day when the five member NRTS team moved on to Minnesota for the Remington
Rand Univac Benchmark test, one of our competitors in this procurement, the IBM
team rode the same commercial plane with them from New York to Minneapolis and
got off the plane with the NRTS team and said our goodbyes and hugs in front of
a very large and surprised Remington Rand executive welcoming group. We later sent a wire to the evaluation team
We won this $12 million procurement against the installed CDC system, who had a very good reputation for scientific and nuclear code computing. To complete this installation and pass an acceptance test, the branch office SE team had to write some special IBM software that enabled several IBM 1130 computers to act as remote terminals from the nuclear reactor test sites to the new central 360 systems.
- More on education and
sell industry solutions, and not just hardware, IBM sales classroom training
was provided in specific industries such as banking, manufacturing, utilities,
distribution, government etc. and sales territories and sometimes entire branch
offices became specialized along these industry lines. I attended
non quota, non-commission Industry Special Reps were available to territory
salesmen for branch office sales calls, working trade shows and conducting week
long customer executive classes at our plant sites in San Jose, Endicott and
Poughkeepsie. The first day of these
customer classes included introduction to data processing concepts followed by
3 and 1/2 days of specific industry application solutions on IBM computer
systems. Leading edge IBM customers were
used as guest instructors. Plant tours were always on the agenda. The customers
resided in IBM Homestead facilities at these locations. They ate breakfast and
dinner in the
worked as a Banking Industry Special Representative on the West Coast and
managed and taught many IBM customer classes in
Japan also operated a customer education center at Amagi near
also took these industry seminars on the road.
In November 1981, over the Thanksgiving holiday, I organized and managed
a University Applications seminar with stops in Hong Kong,
airplanes Dc3's, Two Engine Convairs, F-27s and later jet Gulfstreams were
available to the
Beginning in the mid 50's IBM established their first management development schools. All managers would receive from 2 to 6 weeks of management training on the importance of the IBM business culture and how to manage and motivate people.
market research, IBM Domestic and A/FE Government Industry Marketing made good
use of the University of California, Irvine based Public Policy Research
Organization (PPRO). This group of
professors from the schools of Business Management and Computer Science, led by
Business trip to China with McGill University to conduct
Seminars and demo MUSIC McGill University Student Interactive Computing System. 1981
- Employee Recognition: IBM employee rewards and recognition included annual
3-day Hundred Percent Club conventions for all salesmen and managers making
their assigned quotas that year. The
early year Clubs were held in tents at
In the appendix you will find copies of several pages from the 1929 One Hundred Percent Club Convention brochure held in the Hotel New Yorker in January of 1930.
year IBM also had a
Quoting from Buck Rodgers' book, The IBM Way, "on the engineering side IBM had the Corporate Technical Award and the IBM Fellows program. In 1984 IBM recognized 259 technical professionals, including 79 who shared $2.7 million in awards. The largest award-$1.78 million- went to two teams of 48 employees who worked to bring about the success of the IBM PC and the 3880 Direct Access Storage Device. Also five new IBM Fellows were named, bringing to 88 the number appointed since 1963. They are chosen for their accomplishments in engineering, programming and science. IBM Fellows are free to pursue their own projects for a 5-year period. The title is retained for life."
CENTURY BEGINS, GLOBAL CONFLICT NEARS
addition, I planned and helped to manage IBM Japan and IBM Southeast Asia
Region (SEAR) Recognition Events held in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Sydney and
two in Manila during the 70's and 80's. These events took several months of
pre-planning and we arrived at the event location 2 to 3 weeks before the
convention. You would have 6 to 800 attendees from
most memorable experience of the Recognition event in
"THINK" as mentioned earlier, was a one word-logo that was used throughout IBM. An IBM Think Magazine was published bi-monthly and sent to all customers, employees and thousands of other people free of charge. It contained mostly current event articles and an editorial from the Chairman. See copy in appendix.
In the early days desk top "THINK" signs were given to all of our customers. They were available in all languages around the world.
- Corporate Citizenship:
2 % of annual corporate earnings went to the support of IBM employee and
company participation in charitable and citizenship programs. IBM had no Political Action Committees, PACS,
and made no corporate political contributions but we did employ lobbyists in
major state capitals and in
based in the Southeast Asian Region office in Hong Kong I initiated an IBM PC
model classroom program in 1985, using the
of the classrooms went into a grammar school in
San Jose property taxes also contributed 22% of the cities' re-development
budget that year. We had constant
discussions going with the
1989 I authored an IBM funded $20 million 5-year effort to help improve California
K-12 education through the use of IBM PC technology. Ned Lautenback and Lucy Fjelstad IBM
Corporate Vice Presidents funded this effort and the late Ed Sandel, formerly
manager of IBM customer education in
received a commendation letter from Terry Lautenbach, President of the IBM Data
Processing Division and a 10k cash bonus for selling the value of this program
to the corporate office in New York. (By
this time I had already moved on to a new assignment in
Most community contribution programs i.e. Matching Grants, Fund for Community Service and discretionary funding were driven by employee participation in that activity. As shown above a heavy emphasis was put on education. IBM San Jose had over 30 K-12 school partnerships, each one staffed by employee volunteers. (See flow chart on how this process was initiated and managed) We also hired up to 10 teachers as summer interns each year. They were paid $800 per week, given productive assignments, and had an IBM mentor who usually wound up as their classroom volunteer when school started again. This industry experience was invaluable to these teachers as they related the importance of education to careers in their classrooms. See appendix for presentation " A Corporate Community Support Program" 1992, and the brochure "A Responsible Neighbor" highlighting 1988 IBM community support in Silicon Valley. Also Corporate and Operating Unit Corporate Social Responsibility Directory, California Section. Also “The Bottom Line On Business/Education Partnerships", A survey of Opinion Leaders Conducted by The Wirthlin Group For The IBM Corporation.
a part of my IBM Government and Community relation’s responsibilities in
Silicon Valley I was invited (along with 10 of my corporate counterparts) to
have a private breakfast in October of 1991 with then Governor Bill Clinton at
the San Jose Fairmont Hotel. This was
three days before he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for
President of the
retirement from IBM in 1993 I spent part of a year with former IBM Program
Manager Joyce Monda as a consultant at the
Tom Jr. and Dick Watson
Watson Jr. joined IBM in 1937 after graduating from
Following the war he returned to IBM, working in the corporate office as a Vice President, Executive Vice President, President and in 1956 became Board Chairman and CEO when Tom Sr. retired at the age of 82. Tom Jr ran the IBM Company for the next 15 years, retiring after a heart attack in 1971. He was responsible for moving IBM successfully from punched card machines to computers in the early 50's.
Watson Jr. went on to become Chairman of the General Advisory Committee on
Disarmament and the Ambassador to
Watson was an avid sailor and pilot and continued to fly well into his
70's. He died in 1996. As mentioned
earlier in more detail he visited the
Watson, the youngest son by 5 years also served in the Army in World War II
reaching the rank of Major. After the
war he got a degree in International Relations from
Watson went on to become Ambassador to
Evolution of Data Processing Technology
Beginning with Hollerith invented punched card systems in the late 1800s, followed by punched card or unit record systems, and then computing systems that we know today got their start in the early 50's. (See appendix for a presentation I did on the "History of Data Processing” for the Vintage Computer Festival in 2005.
the transition from Punched Card Systems to Computers in the early 50's was a
very difficult decision for IBM. The
Remington Rand "Univac" was the first commercial electronic computer
on the market. IBM responded a short
time later with the following systems.
SSEC (Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator) 602A, 603, 604, and 607,
all designed to work with punched card systems and programmed by wired control
panels. Then came the magnetic tape 701 for scientific calculation, the 702 for
accounting applications, the 650, a medium range magnetic drum storage system,
and SAGE, Semi-automatic Ground Environment System, for the U.S. Air Force. The
SAGE Systems each had 50,000 vacuum tubes and were duplexed at 58 locations
finally the most significant breakthrough occurred in the mid 50's in a San
Jose Lab on Notre Dame Street when the late Reynolds Johnson, the former
teacher mentioned earlier who invented the 805 Test Scoring Machine, developed
random access hard disk storage, similar to a long-playing musical record that
was incorporated into the IBM 305 Ramac. I had the pleasure of sponsoring
Reynolds Johnson for the Silicon Valley Junior Achievement Hall of Fame. At the awards dinner at the San Jose Fairmont
Hotel, with he and his wife, I learned that in retirement he was working on a
Chinese language typewriter in his garage. He passed away in 1998 at the age of
one-page bio of Reynolds Johnson is on the next page. More complete information on Mr. Johnson is
in the appendix. San Jose Junior Achievement has a video on his achievements
and award, a copy of which I had sent to the
These first ever data storage disks were 2 feet in diameter and it took 50 of these spinning platters to store 5 million characters. The reading and writing of data on these disks was done by a single read/write arm that traveled mechanically up and down a shaft to strattle the top and bottom of the individual spinning platters. Data access time was measured in seconds, but it was random access for the first time and not the batch sequence processing systems we had to live with before on punched card and magnetic tape systems. This gave birth to the first on-line computer systems in the industry.
I have one of the early 305 Ramac disks and several of the much smaller and denser storage versions. From 1956 to 1998 capacity went from 5 million characters on fifty 24 inch-diameter platters or 5 megabytes, in a box weighing one ton, to a single 1 inch-diameter platter with 340 megabytes of storage space which weighs less than a double-A battery. See picture of 305 Storage System being unloaded from a Pan American Airways cargo plane.