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Icons of Progress

The Making of International Business Machines

Ever a thoughtful decision maker, Thomas Watson Sr. contemplated options and likely consulted many trusted advisors on changing the name of his then struggling company to International Business Machines. But ultimately, the decision was his—and one that he made alone, decades before his son would assemble a team to visually unify the IBM brand.

  • Thomas Watson Sr. 

    Thomas Watson Sr.
    “You cannot be a success in any business without believing that it is the greatest business in the world.” – Thomas Watson Sr.

    After a modest rural childhood near Ithaca, New York, Thomas John Watson got his start in business in sales. He worked first for himself—as a traveling peddler—and later at the National Cash Register Company in Dayton, Ohio, where he was a sales manager and ascended into the executive ranks over a decade-plus tenure. From NCR Watson became general manager of the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR), moving with his young family to New York City in May 1914 to lead CTR, whose name he would change to International Business Machines a decade later. As IBM’s founding chairman, Watson built a powerful tabulating machine business that was growing steadily. Credited with defining IBM’s distinctive management style and creating its corporate culture, Watson also became the nation’s foremost celebrity businessman. His coining of the wildly popular “THINK” motto in 1911 presaged his lifelong success as a salesman and marketer. Watson brought explosive growth to IBM: At the time his death in 1956, IBM boasted nearly $900 million in annual revenues—one hundred times C-T-R’s annual revenues when Watson took charge of the company in 1914.

  • Paul Rand 

    Paul Rand
    “The trademark is a potential illustrative feature of unappreciated vigor and efficacy.” – Paul Rand, “Seven Designers Look At Trademark Design,” 1952

    American graphic designer Paul Rand—born Peretz Rosenbaum—was trained at the Pratt Institute, the Parsons School for Design and the Art Students League. He began his design career in the 1930s as a part-time stock image creator for a syndicate supplying graphics to newspapers and magazines, but rose quickly to international renown for his creative work in page design. As art director for the Esquire-Coronet magazine franchise and later the Weintraub advertising agency, Rand began to develop the distinctive style that would become his trademark and secure his reputation as America’s premier graphic artists. As part of Thomas Watson Jr.’s company-wide corporate design program, Rand created IBM’s seminal eight-bar logo still in use today, as well as it predecessor logo, and went on to develop eye-catching packaging and marketing materials for IBM until the early 1990s.