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Icons of Progress

Patents and Innovation

  • James W. Bryce 

    James Wares Bryce was one of America's most prolific inventors, credited with more than 500 U.S. and foreign patents.

    James W. Bryce joined CTR as supervising engineer of the ITR Division in 1917. In 1926, he organized the IBM Patent Department, which was developed to help inventors obtain patents and manage the company's existing patents. His incredible foresight allowed him to recognize the potential of new ideas, and his encouragement enabled engineers and inventors at IBM to successfully follow through on their projects. This ability, to foresee certain trends and then start work on machines to meet future business requirements, marked Bryce throughout his career. In 1936, during the centennial celebration of the U.S. Patent Office, Bryce was honored as one of the ten "greatest living inventors."

  • Arthur H. Dickinson 


    Arthur H. Dickinson joined IBM in 1932 as assistant to James W. Bryce. He and Bryce were the only two employees within the IBM Patent Department. His job was to engineer Bryce's ideas in a way that would allow them to apply for patents. But Dickinson was an inventor himself, with a great deal of success. One of his first inventions was a change in the keypunch, which made it possible to convert a card with a true amount to a negative amount, and indicate that in the card. In 1940, under Bryce's supervision, Dickinson submitted an application for a patent on what would be one of his most significant inventions: a method for adding and subtracting using vacuum tubes.

  • Ralph Palmer 

    Ralph Palmer came to IBM in 1932 in Endicott, N.Y. In 1939, he became manager of the Poughkeepsie Engineering Laboratory, and was a top advisor to Thomas Watson on the development of the IBM 701 Data Processing System. Following the successful completion of that project, Mr. Palmer was made director of engineering in 1954 and was named an IBM Fellow in 1963. Bob O. Evans stated: "Of the hundreds of executives of many nationalities I have come to know since the early 1950s, none match Ralph's vision, incisiveness, and ability to move mountains. I credit this soft-spoken, focused man of few words with numerous concepts which, when he brought them to action, accelerated IBM into its leadership position."

  • Cuthbert C. Hurd 

    Cuthbert Hurd received his bachelor of arts degree in mathematics from Drake University in 1932, his master of science degree in mathematics from Iowa State College in 1934, and his PhD in mathematics from the University of Illinois in 1936. He joined IBM in 1949 as director of applied sciences, developing the Applied Sciences Division. According to The New York Times, the two [Hurd and Thomas Watson Jr.] "recommended that the company design and build a general-purpose computer, bearing the heavy expense itself so that IBM would own the patents." The result was the IBM 701, also known as the Defense Calculator. This put IBM "on the path to becoming the dominant force in the computer industry." In 1967, Drake University awarded him an honorary LLD degree. In 1986, Cuthbert C. Hurd received the IEEE Computer Pioneer award by the IEEE Computer Society for his contributions to early computing.

  • John C. McPherson 

    John C. McPherson was the first IBM employee to hold the title of director of engineering.

    John McPherson received an electrical engineering degree from Princeton University in 1929 and joined IBM in 1930. He served as director of engineering in the 1940s and became a vice president in 1948. He was first director of IBM's graduate-level Systems Research Institute in the 1960s. He was also the first employee of the Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory at Columbia. According to famed computer scientist Herb Grosch: "He was the door through which almost all the IBM inventors and engineers, and us scientific types, reached TJ (Bryce and Eckert had direct access). I call him a monitor; he didn't give orders, but he passed requests from la bas to Watson, and Watson's orders to nous ouvriers. He was unquestionably the central figure in the IBM technical escalade from 1930 to the early1950s. Eckert had the scientific vision, Hurd had the marketing vision, but John put it all together and channeled the overwhelming power of The Old Man to the whole computing community."

  • William Wallace McDowell 


    Wallace McDowell graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1930 with a degree in engineering management. He joined IBM after graduation and worked his way up to vice president at Endicott by the end of his career. According to the IEEE Computer Society’s biography of Wallace McDowell, "He directed the development of the first commercial electronic calculator, which was followed by the IBM Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator operated at the company's headquarters for solution of scientific problems. He later was responsible for development of major advances including IBM's card-programmed calculator, magnetic drums and tape units, magnetic core and disc storage, the company's '700' systems, and the Naval Ordinance Research Calculator." In 1965, the W. Wallace McDowell Award was established in honor of McDowell. It is awarded annually "for outstanding recent theoretical, design, educational, practical, or other similar innovative contributions that fall within the scope of Computer Society interest."

  • Francis E. Hamilton 


    Frank Hamilton joined CTR in 1923 as a draftsman. Throughout his career at IBM, he was responsible for the primary organization, design and construction of the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC)—also known as the Harvard Mach I—and for the IBM Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator (SSEC) of 1948, which was more than 250 times as fast as the ASCC. Hamilton was also the principal designer of the IBM 650 Magnetic Drum Calculator of 1953. In Building IBM: shaping an industry and its technology, Emerson W. Pugh notes: "Frank Hamilton—who had learned to build computers by working on the one-of-a-kind Mark 1(sic) and SSEC supercomputers—had met the senior Watson's challenge. He had developed a machine for 'ordinary businesses' that became the most popular computer of the 1950s."

  • Wallace John Eckert 

    Wallace Eckert graduated from Oberlin College in 1925, and earned a master of arts degree from Amherst College in 1931. He earned his PhD in astronomy from Yale in 1931. According to Frank da Cruz of Columbia University, "Perhaps his greatest achievement was his insight, in 1934, that a number of single-purpose IBM machines (this one could add, that one could multiply, another one could copy) might be interconnected and ‘programmed’ to perform complex scientific calculations without human intervention, given a mechanism to coordinate their actions and communicate results among them. He designed such a mechanism, IBM built it for him, and the setup was so successful that Eckert's Pupin Hall laboratory became an international center for scientific computation." In 1940, he wrote Punched Card Methods in Scientific Computation, widely considered the first computer book. Eckert founded the IBM Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory at Columbia University, and he produced the lunar orbit calculations that guided the Apollo missions to the moon. In 1948, Eckert received the James Craig Watson Medal, the oldest award of the National Academy of Sciences, for outstanding astronomical research.

  • Robert R. (Rex) Seeber 

    Rex Seeber graduated from Harvard University in 1932. A mathematician, Seeber worked on the ASCC machine with Howard Aiken at the Harvard Computational Laboratory. In 1945, he joined IBM and eventually became chief architect of the SSEC, establishing and directing the programming staff for the project. Seeber's ideas led to the SSEC becoming the first calculating machine with a dynamically modifiable program. In The IBM Watson Laboratory at Columbia University: A History, Jean Ford Brennan says, "In the end, his contributions to the machine proved to be so important that he was named, with Hamilton, as co-inventor."