Repository Profile - IBM Corporate Archives

IBM Corporate Archives
Jamie Martin, IBM Corporate Archivist

On one wintry January day I picked up two excited New-York Historical Society curators from a local Westchester County train station. We’d commenced planning an upcoming exhibit just a few weeks prior, and it was time for a visit to the IBM Archives. A scheduled two hour meeting turned into a full day—and as the design took shape, the IBM exhibit presence simply grew and grew.

On November 13th, the New-York Historical Society opened its latest exhibit, titled Silicon City: Computer History Made in New York. Featuring hundreds of items loaned by numerous archives, museums and individual collectors, the exhibit traces the evolution of technology in New York State dating back to the days of Thomas Edison. What was originally planned as “a few artifacts and some content” eventually turned into more than 100 representations of IBM history as seen through artifacts, video, still images, ephemera and digital content. The curators chose the iconic 1964 World’s Fair IBM Pavilion, designed by Ray & Charles Eames, as the exhibit centerpiece. 

The project was truly a team effort, as it involved conservation efforts of vintage machines, specialized digital scanning, intensive research, hours spent scouring videos, formalizing loan agreements and more. Not surprisingly, the most difficult part was ensuring permissions on the wide assortment of joint-copyright items and the multiple rounds of vetting by internal IBM communications teams. 

The most critical decisions surrounded our artifacts. Machines resided at three different locations, requiring careful pickup coordination and a very long day in the car. Old sales manuals were consulted to determine the exact size and weight of some hefty mid-century mainframes. No, I could not loan out one of my only working Selectric typewriters so thousands of people could type away happily. Yes, I could arrange the loan of our original 1948 Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator (SSEC), retro blinking lights and all (and safely roped off). 

Opening preview week brought one last challenge, as the N-YHS curators accidentally blew the power supply on the freshly restored SSEC, so early attendees sadly did not see the vintage machine in action. We hastily ordered a new unit, arranged transportation for the team’s artifact curator, and the machine was up and running again within a few weeks.

The press publicized Silicon City widely, and IBM senior leaders held a rare executive “Town Hall” meeting onsite—fantastic exposure for our archives team. For those of you in the New York area, I urge you to visit. IBM is just one of many corporate archives featured in this exhibit, which also includes artifacts from AT&T, Bell Labs, Alcatel-Lucent, and more. It’s a rare opportunity to showcase the importance of our collections to the public at large.


Left: Some of the many IBM artifacts loaned for the exhibit, including the IBM 729 tape deck and a System/360 console.

Right: The exhibit also featured a large section on IBM's commitment to design, including the iconic Selectic typewriter.


Note:  Repository Profilies are provided by the organization.  The Business Archives Section will update as notified by the organization.  Accordingly, information may not be accurate.  Individuals should contact the organization before using or citing information.

SAA Home / BAS Home / Contact the Editors