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Digital Pioneers (29): Thomas J. Watson : The man who was IBM

Worthy of all honor

The computer age would be difficult to imagine without the company IBM. Thomas J. Watson gave it this name in 1924 and played a decisive role in its success in the decades that followed.

To person

Thomas J. Watson (1874 to 1956) grew up on the US east coast. He quit his job as a teacher on the very first day. After a course at a business school, he worked as a sales representative - with resounding success, especially at NCR, which manufactured cash registers. Things were probably not always right, as a (later overturned) judgment for unlawful sales practices suggests. Even then, Watson attached great importance to loyalty and employee motivation. In 1911 he coined the term of thinking about what you do and want to achieve: “Think!” He kept the motto alive for decades, and later it was even found on the IBM laptops called ThinkPad.

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In 1914, after Watson was kicked out of NCR, he went to the "Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company", which mainly earned its money with machines for data processing and storage via punch cards. He negotiated a profit sharing of five percent for himself, which later made him one of the richest men in the country. In 1915 Watson became head of the company, and in 1924 he renamed it "International Business Machines", or IBM for short. "World peace through world trade" was his motto. With this in mind, he continued to expand the company. The German subsidiary became known under the name Dehomag. Their role during the Third Reich is controversial, after all, IBM supplied punched cards that were also used for the registration of Jews and thus for the organization of the Holocaust.

Watson was also active in Israel. In 1950, IBM Israel, the country's high-tech company, was founded.

"I think there will be a need for maybe five computers in the world," Watson is reported to have said in 1943. There is no proof of this. In view of his career, that doesn't seem credible either. When Watson died in 1956, 72,500 people were working for IBM. To this day it is one of the leading companies in the industry.

Good to know

"Watson" is a computer program from the field of artificial intelligence. It was developed by IBM to answer questions entered in natural language - and named after Thomas Watson.

75 years ago Konrad Zuse presented the first functional computer Z3 in Berlin. On this occasion, the Zuse Institute Berlin and the Tagesspiegel will look into the digital future at an international conference on May 11th: "The Digital Future - 75 Years Zuse Z3 and the Digital Revolution." Show 75 episodes about the most important pioneers of the digital age , what happened until now.

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