Thomas J. Watson, Sr.

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Thomas John Watson, Sr.

Birthdate: (82)
Birthplace: on a farm, East Campbell, Steuben County, New York, United States
Death: June 19, 1956 (82)
Roosevelt Hospital, New York City, New York, United States (heart failure as the result of complications from a stroke)
Place of Burial: Sleepy Hollow, Westchester County, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas Watson and Jane Fulton Watson
Husband of Jeanette Watson
Father of Thomas J. Watson, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Arthur K. Watson, U.S. Ambassador to France

Managed by: Private User
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About Thomas J. Watson, Sr.

Thomas John Watson, Sr. was president of International Business Machines (IBM), who oversaw that company's growth into an international force from 1914 to 1956. Watson developed IBM's distinctive management style and corporate culture, and turned the company into a highly-effective selling organization, based largely around punched card tabulating machines. A leading self-made industrialist, he was one of the richest men of his time and was called the world's greatest salesman when he died in 1956.


Thomas Watson Sr. was chairman of the Elmira College Centennial Committee in 1955 and gave Watson Hall, primarily a music and mathematics academic building.

Mr. Watson Sr. was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1990.

Famous misquote

Although Watson is well known for his alleged 1943 statement: "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers," there is scant evidence he made it. Author Kevin Maney tried to find the origin of the quote, but has been unable to locate any speeches or documents of Watson's that contain this, nor are the words present in any contemporary articles about IBM. The earliest known citation on the Internet is from 1986 on Usenet in the signature of a poster from Convex Computer Corporation as "I think there is a world market for about five computers" — Remark attributed to Thomas J. Watson (Chairman of the Board of International Business Machines), 1943. Another early article source (May 15, 1985) is a column by Neil Morgan, a San Diego Evening Tribune writer who wrote: Forrest Shumway, chairman of The Signal Cos., doesn't make predictions. His role model is Tom Watson, then IBM chairman, who said in 1958: "I think there is a world market for about five computers." One of the very first quotes can be found in a book "The Experts Speak" written by Christopher Cerf and Victor S. Navasky in 1984. However Cerf and Navasky just quote from a book written by Morgan and Langford, "Facts and Fallacies". All these early quotes are questioned by Eric Weiss, an Editor of the Annals of the History of Computing in ACS letters in 1985.

In 1985 the story was discussed on Usenet (in net.misc), without Watson's name being attached. The original discussion has not survived, but an explanation has; it attributes a very similar quote to the Cambridge mathematician Professor Douglas Hartree, around 1951:

I went to see Professor Douglas Hartree, who had built the first differential analyzers in England and had more experience in using these very specialized computers than anyone else. He told me that, in his opinion, all the calculations that would ever be needed in this country could be done on the three digital computers which were then being built — one in Cambridge, one in Teddington, and one in Manchester. No one else, he said, would ever need machines of their own, or would be able to afford to buy them. (quotation from an article by Lord Bowden; American Scientist vol 58 (1970) pp 43–53); cited on Usenet. The misquote is itself often misquoted, with fifty computers instead of five.

The story had already been described as a myth in 1973; the Economist quoted a Mr Maney as "revealing that Watson never made his oft-quoted prediction that there was 'a world market for maybe five computers'".

Since the quote is typically used to demonstrate the fallacy of predictions, if Watson did make such a prediction in 1943, then, as Gordon Bell pointed out in his ACM 50 years celebration keynote, it would have held true for some ten years.

The IBM Archives Frequently Asked Questions asks if he said in the 1950s that he foresaw a market potential for only five electronic computers. The document says no, but quotes his son and then IBM President Thomas J. Watson, Jr., at the annual IBM stockholders meeting, April 28, 1953, as speaking about the IBM 701 Electronic Data Processing Machine, which it identifies as "the company's first production computer designed for scientific calculations". He said that "IBM had developed a paper plan for such a machine and took this paper plan across the country to some 20 concerns that we thought could use such a machine. I would like to tell you that the machine rents for between $12,000 and $18,000 a month, so it was not the type of thing that could be sold from place to place. But, as a result of our trip, on which we expected to get orders for five machines, we came home with orders for 18." Watson, Jr., later gave a slightly different version of the story in his autobiography, where he said the initial market sampling indicated 11 firm takers and 10 more prospective orders.

Famous quote

"THINK". Watson began using "THINK" to motivate, or inspire, staff while at NCR and continued to use it at CTR. IBM's first U.S. trademark was for the name "THINK" filed as a U.S. trademark on June 6, 1935 with the description "periodical publications". This trademark was filed fourteen years before the company filed for a U.S. trademark on the name IBM. A biographical article in 1940 noted that "This word is on the most conspicuous wall of every room in every IBM building. Each employee carries a THINK notebook in which to record inspirations. The company stationery, matches, scratch pads all bear the inscription, THINK. A monthly magazine called 'Think' is distributed to the employees." THINK remains a part of IBM's corporate culture to this day; it was the inspiration behind naming IBM's very successful line of notebook computers, IBM ThinkPad. In 2008, IBM Mid America Employees Federal Credit Union changed its name to Think Mutual Bank.

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Thomas J. Watson, Sr.'s Timeline

1874
February 17, 1874
East Campbell, Steuben County, New York, United States
1914
January 14, 1914
Age 39
Dayton, Montgomery County, Ohio, United States
1919
April 23, 1919
Age 45
1956
June 19, 1956
Age 82
New York City, New York, United States
????
Sleepy Hollow, Westchester County, New York, United States