Four of IBM's pioneering inventors are meeting in this undated photograph. From left to right, they are Fred M. Carroll, Frederick L. Fuller, J. Roydon Peirce and Eugene A. Ford.
Fred Carroll was one of the young IBM company's leading
engineers and designers and a prolific inventor (with
The following is the text of a biographical article published in the IBM employee publication Business Machines in December 1961, shortly after his death.
When a young inventor named Fred Carroll left the National Cash Register Company to join IBM (then Computing-Tabulating-Recording) in June of 1916, he found a small company with a growing reputation in weight and time recording devices.
When he retired in 1956, 40 years later, he had helped to revolutionize the entire business machines industry.
In a sense, his death on October 30th, at the age of 91, marks the end of an era. For Mr. Carroll was the last survivor of a group of senior engineers, including Clair D. Lake, Eugene A. Ford, Albert W. Mills, Fred. L. Fuller, J. Roydon Peirce, and James W. Bryce, who pioneered IBM's original line of accounting machines.
Each of these men was a rugged individualist. Most of them achieved success by combining three qualities: good engineering, a single, minded approach to their current project, and, on occasion, aggressive salesmanship to obtain support for his projects.
In one way, Mr. Carroll was an exception to this tradition. He was quiet and reserved. He could rarely be persuaded to speak before any large group. Believing it to be beneath his dignity to laud the value of his inventions, he let his machines "speak for themselves."
As an engineer and designer, Fred Carroll was a perfectionist. His meticulous attention to design detail invariably led to the development of a better machine, although it sometimes taxed the draftsmen and technicians who worked for him. "His only hobby was his job," said one of his former associates at the Product Development Laboratory in Endicott. "If he wasn't actually creating something, he was reading technical or scientific papers to raise his own educational level."
Fred Carroll laid the groundwork for his creative career as a boy in Union City, Pennsylvania. Experimenting with bicycles, he came up with a "cyclometer," a mileage recorder. In 1896, this device became his first patented invention.
Fifty years later, Fred Carroll's inquiring mind had brought him 97 patents â€” and a reputation as one of the most prolific inventors in IBM history.
At least three of his inventions caused major thrusts in IBM's growth: an automatic high-speed rotary card manufacturing machine in the l920's revolutionized the art of card manufacture; the unit counter led to many developments in IBM data processing machines; the "compensating carriage," automatically feeding and spacing single and continuous paper forms, was the first important connecting link between IBM data processing machines and continuous business forms.
Before Mr. Carroll developed the rotary card manufacturing machine, card production on flat-bed machines was slow, noisy and expensive. The machine's maximum production rate of 120 cards per minute could not satisfy the growing demands of industry for precision record-keeping.
Fred Carroll's ideas for a rotary machine, equipped with extremely small diameter cylinders and a means for cutting each card in flight after printing, evoked skeptical comments from his colleagues.
Persistent in his efforts to convince people of the practicality of his idea, Mr. Carroll worked long hours in a small corner lab at the Endicott plant. His first model raised the card production rate to 400 a minute. By 1932, a new model solved the problems of ink drying and high speed cutting, and boosted card production further.
Although IBM engineers have continued to improve the machine, today's Supplies Division card manufacturing machines still operate on time basic principles of Mr. Carroll's invention. In addition, in recent years, more than 30 other firms have been given the right to use Mr. Carroll's patents to manufacture cards and card manufacturing machines. The fact that the genius of one man has found such widespread application throughout the card industry is perhaps the best tribute that can be paid him.
Although he is best remembered for his tremendous work in card manufacturing, Mr. Carroll also pioneered developments in the field of accounting machines and computers.
His "unit counter" was a small electromechanical device that acted as a single adding wheel. It accumulated and totaled long columns of figures. Combined with C. D. Lake's electrical transfer circuitry, it became the basis of the arithmetic apparatus incorporated in IBM's accounting machines.
Another Carroll development of tremendous impact on IBM's data processing machines was time "compensating carriage." Combined with a card-controlled accounting machine, it made possible the direct preparation and immediate distribution of bills, checks, vouchers, and other types of individual records.
It marked IBM's transition from statistical to accounting applications. For the first time, a completely automatic accounting machine was able to read card records and prepare continuous form printed documents without manual intervention.
Fred Carroll played a significant role in automating "the world's largest bookkeeping job." The special machine he designed for the Social Security Administration was an ingenious combination of pneumatic, mechanical and, for the first time in IBM history, photo-electric sensing apparatus. Mr. Carroll was not an electronics engineer, but he had the foresight to recognize the potential of electronically controlled devices at an early date.
Mr. Carroll is remembered by his associates as a man who repeatedly combined the rare talents of a technical genius with those of a farsighted businessman. He approached every problem determined to develop a machine completely feasible from two viewpoints: engineering and economics.
Fred Carroll lived very simply. He was liberal in his charitable gifts, particularly to hospitals and to the activities of youth in his community. Though he had no children of his own, he dedicated himself wholeheartedly to the Boys Club.
During his lifetime, he earned a degree of respect from his supervisors, his colleagues, and his subordinates which has rarely been equaled by anyone in the IBM engineering organization.