Jun 30, 2012

Social Security Saved IBM

     Wired Enterprise has a fascinating piece on Social Security's crucial role in IBM's history. In short, the story is that IBM management thought that the Great Depression would be a short term event. They kept expanding staff and building inventory. This mistake might have caused IBM to go under but for the creation of Social Security. The new agency needed data processing machinery -- at that time card reading collators -- in a big way to keep track of F.I.C.A. contributions. IBM was the only company ready to do the job. The Social Security contract saved IBM. The 80 column punch cards developed by IBM for Social Security became an industry standard for 45 years. Those collators that were essential for Social Security and which allowed IBM to survive and eventually thrive were first shipped 75 years ago this month.


Anonymous said...

And we still, on increasingly rare occasions, run into a punch card still in an older paper folder. I think I've seen two in the last decade.

Anonymous said...

I designed a few mark sense cards for SSI queries in the mid-1980s. These were 80 column cards that instead of being punched were marked with a #2 pencil and scanned to generate a query. Of course, that was an improvement over having to cut a paper tape on a teletype machine to get a query. Those card punch machines were all over the Operations building and were used by folks doing JCL.

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