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Icons of Progress

The Making of International Business Machines


The Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company was indeed a “little outfit” relative to other American companies in 1924. Yet Thomas Watson Sr. had a grand—and prescient—vision for its expansion, one reflected in its worldly new name. From its earliest overseas offices established by Watson in Canada, Brazil, France and other countries around the world, International Business Machines would grow into its name—and into today’s US$100 billion globally integrated enterprise, with a presence in 176 countries.

IBM’s early reach around the world

Below is a look at just a few of the dozens of countries where IBM began doing business very early on in its history. Using its reach “down under” as an example, IBM established five Australian locations in one year, opening shop in Adelaide, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane in 1914, the first year of Thomas Watson Sr.’s tenure as president.

A leading role in Brazilian IT

C-T-R opened its first office outside of the US in Brazil—a “representation office’’ for the company—in 1917, beginning what would become a leading role in the development of information technology in Brazil. Watson Sr. added subsequent offices at a healthy clip over the following three decades. By 1948, IBM offices could be found in many of Brazil’s largest cities, including São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Fortaleza and Belo Horizonte, among others.

IBM expands to China

IBM established its first office in China in 1928 in Shanghai. As advances in communication technology and transportation during the 1930s facilitated international business, IBM US and IBM China enjoyed a closer connection: IBM vice president and general manager F.W. Nichol made the first-ever business call from the US to China when he called the Shanghai office from New York in May 1937. The same month, the flying boat China Clipper carried a letter to Watson Sr. from the Shanghai office on the first direct China-to-US air mail flight.