International Business Machines

company town

ibm endicottThose of you of a certain age KNOW that International Business Machines, or IBM, was not just a large corporation, but, if you could get in there, a career.  This article specifically addresses the import and outsized significance of IBM to the Triple Cities of Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott.

“The company was founded in 1911 as the Computer Tabulating Recording Company (CTR) and took up residency in Endicott, where the three companies that merged to form CTR had been based.” The buildings of the company dominated Endicott, taking up 150 acres of real estate. “At its height, IBM Endicott employed 19,000 people in the region and the majority of the population of the city.”

While there were undoubtedly many places that were “company towns”, Endicott, and the surrounding Broome County, were the first and foremost.

Les at IBM

When my father needed a job in the early 1960s, he was considered lucky to get into IBM Endicott. I had guesstimated that he had worked there for six years, but now I am uncertain. In the 1963 Binghamton City Directory, he was listed as working at the Interracial Center at 45 Carroll Street, but in ’64, at IBM. It’s probable that he was working at IBM in ’63. Could he have been working at both in ’62, since the IBM job was at night? IDK.

I DO know that he hated the job. It was mind-numbing boring for him, I’m guessing, moving materials around on forklifts from one area of the massive campus to another. He had been a trucker in his past, so I imagine that he was good at it.

It was only in retrospect that I realized how much I missed him. He did try to compensate by cooking waffles on Saturday mornings, and spaghetti Saturday nights, since we didn’t see him that much during the week. As I learned from him, the secret to a great spaghetti sauce is cooking it for hours.

Perks

Occasionally, we all went to the IBM Country Club. I have this vague recollection of seeing an exhibition game between the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics there. I could be misremembering the venue, but getting tickets was somehow a perk of him working there.

In this blog, I have told at least a half dozen times, how my 9th-grade homeroom and biology teacher, Mr. Joseph told me straight out that my father was “CRAZY” for leaving his job at IBM. This was “especially for a position with Opportunities for Broome, an OEO government job (where he thought he was making a difference). Government jobs come and go, but once you’re in the IBM family, you were set for life.”

Eventually, that became less true. In 1978, IBM moved 1,000 families from upstate New York to the Charlotte area, where, coincidentally, my parents and baby sister had moved four years earlier. That was the first big influx. (Charlotte pizza, before the Northerners came, was AWFUL.)

Me at IBM, first time

I graduated from Binghamton Central High School in January 1971. After looking for a few weeks, I got a job, of course, at IBM Endicott. I wrote about it here.

“My job was to do these three processes. The first was to put this laminated coating over these circuit boards. The second (and the most difficult) was to bake them in these ovens, making sure not to bend the pins or have the coating get on the pins. The third task was to bake this plastic holder onto the circuit boards.

“Irritatingly, the first shift did a lot of the first task, leaving the second task to me. And I really had to do it, because the coating would start riding up the pins if they weren’t baked within 10 or 12 hours. They didn’t like me because I would do the first task so fast that the company raised the rate for that job, something from 60 to 80 boards per hour. That WAS a tactical error on my part.

I was on the second shift, which ostensibly was 5:12 p.m. to 2 a.m ., with a 48-minute lunch. But I hardly ever worked that. It was usually 5:12 p.m. to 4 a.m., and then from 12 noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday…I saved a lot of money for college because of the 16 hours of overtime per week… Because I was generally too tired to go out – I managed to lose 30 pounds because I was too tired to eat…”

Give blood

“First time I ever gave blood was while I worked there because I could get paid at work while taking of the hour to donate.” When I left, my manager was disappointed, but I needed to go to college.

I made $3,371 in a little less than six months working at IBM before I went to college. “This would be the most money I would make until 1978. I made enough to pay for my college expenses and to lend my parents $1500 for the down payment on a house. Tuition was cheap, and I had a Regents scholarship to SUNY New Paltz.”

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

3 thoughts on “International Business Machines”

  1. My dad walked out of the Navy after WWII and into IBM. He worked there for over 30 years and took an early retirement package when it was offered. He was an assembler and worked on a number of different machines over his time there including System/360, check readers, and printers. Thursdays were his IBM Golf League nights.

    I did spend one summer during my college years working at IBM. I was in Electrical Component Receiving Inspection. We would have to pull 10 pieces of various components and check them against blueprints and schematics. There was one guy in the department, Lew, who took me under his wing. He had worked with my dad at one time. From early on he explained the backlog system and how we didn’t want to let the backlog shrink, otherwise OT would be cancelled. So I learned how to do the job slowly, the IBM way. When we went in on Saturdays from 7 to noon, it was interesting to watch the four managers in the area sitting around in one office for awhile, then they would leave to get coffee and reconvene in another manager’s office.

    The one job I disliked the most was checking cable harnesses. Some of them were huge with about a hundred leads. It would take forever to do one of them, let alone 10. One of the engineers advised me that if I was ever tired or hung over and didn’t want to work too hard on the harnesses that I should reject a shipment saying that some of the leads did not match the schematics. At that point one or two project engineers would have to come down and do the checks themselves and either off-spec the cables or accept them. During that time I wouldn’t have to work on any other components while I waited. Again, the IBM way. “Damn, I was positive those leads didn’t match up!”

  2. IBM: I’ve Been Mislead!

    There’s a joke in the 2001: A Space Odyssey novel which refers to a rumor that the HAL-9000’s creators named HAL thusly to stay “one step ahead of IBM”.

  3. Those comments from your ninth-grade teacher seem really presumptuous!

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