Kingston: The IBM Years

IBM Campus, Kingston NY (2014) Photo by Andy Milford
IBM Campus, Kingston NY (2014)
Photo by Andy Milford

Back when companies relied on mainframe computers to crunch their numbers and process their words, times were good at IBM’s Kingston, NY, plant. Workers were well paid, families were invited to picnics on the company’s sprawling campus, and prosperity was real for thousands of hardworking Ulster County residents. As technology changed, so too did the demand for mainframe computers and IBM’s sales plummeted, taking with them the jobs, benefits and economic security many IBMers thought would last forever.  Layoffs started in 1993, creating a seismic shift in the economy of the Hudson Valley – one from which we have yet to fully recover. These days, visitors to the grounds that once housed IBM see little more than vestiges of what once was. The massive buildings are still there and the grass is freshly cut. A few new tenants have even moved in. But the IBM workforce and the hum of machines pressing out mainframes, are long gone.

IBM Family Day, 1958 Photo by Bruce Whistance
IBM Family Day, 1958
Photo by Bruce Whistance

Friends of Historic Kingston have organized an intriguing exhibition documenting the important role IBM played in the Hudson Valley. According to their website: “This exhibit spotlights some of IBM’s signature achievements during its 40-year stay in Ulster County, including the SAGE air defense system and System/360 mainframe, but with an equal focus on the people who worked for the computer giant and the lives and neighborhoods they created for themselves locally.

Under the direction of Prof. Roger Panetta of Fordham University, Friends volunteers recorded more than 50 oral histories of people in the community, including “IBMers” themselves and others who did business with IBM.

IBM Kingston NY Facility Photo courtesy of Friends of Historic Kingston
IBM Kingston NY Facility
Photo courtesy of Friends of Historic Kingston

The exhibit  includes one of the earliest electric typewriters produced in Kingston, and rare vintage photographs of the SAGE project, the testing floor for the System/360 mainframe and the typewriter assembly line. IBMers have lent their employee badges and scrapbooks filled with memories of promotions, work dinners and off-site training.

An illustrated book, co-published with Black Dome Press, accompanies the exhibition. It includes a preface by  Ward Mintz, the project director, and essays by some of the Hudson Valley’s most illustrious scholars, including Panetta, Harvey Flad, co-author of Main Street to Mainframes: Landscape and Social Change in Poughkeepsie; and William B. Rhoads, author of Ulster County, New York, The Architectural History and Guide.

To find out more, visit the Events page