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Columns

November 16, 2013

IBM thrived in region during Great Depression

Last weekend, we learned that many local unemployed men found much-needed temporary work by building new sewers and water lines in Oneonta during the Great Depression. While the times were tough for so many, just about 65 miles southeast of here a totally different employment strategy was in progress in Endicott, at the IBM Corp.

Many Oneontans took note of what was going on in Broome County. Local people were early and heavy investors in IBM stock, originally known in part as Bundy Manufacturing, which had some roots in Oneonta.

The Thursday, Nov. 23, 1933 edition of The Oneonta Herald reported, “How a large corporation has continued to prosper during the depression was told by G.B. Armstrong of Endicott, director of education of the International Business Machines Corp. at the weekly meeting of the Kiwanis club at the Elks club last week.” The Elks Club was where today’s 99 Main St. is found.

Armstrong gave a history of the company from 1911, after three companies were combined to form a corporation called the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Co. Representing one of the three companies was Oneonta resident George W. Fairchild, who became president of the newly formed corporation, renamed IBM in 1924. Armstrong also told of the impetus given to the organization when Thomas J. Watson joined the staff in 1914.

“Declaring that when the depression began,” the Herald reported, “it was not spoken of in the firm’s offices” under Watson’s leadership. Everyone in the organization continued to follow the firm’s motto, “Think.” Engineers continued to study business needs, developed new machines to solve their problems and an aggressive sales campaign was pursued.

During the Depression, IBM continued to open offices and showrooms, erect new buildings and conduct schools for foremen, engineers, salesmen and factory employees. More than 700 were enrolled in the newly dedicated IBM School on North Street in Endicott at that time.

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