The IBM Years on view in Kingston

In 1952, IBM started working with the US Defense Department to design and build a supercomputer for the North American Defense System. SAGE, headquartered in Kingston, was one of the most important projects in IBM history and was later described by a University of Pennsylvania professor as one of “four monumental projects that changed the modern world.” (Collection of Friends of Historic Kingston)

In 1952, IBM started working with the US Defense Department to design and build a supercomputer for the North American Defense System. SAGE, headquartered in Kingston, was one of the most important projects in IBM history and was later described by a University of Pennsylvania professor as one of “four monumental projects that changed the modern world.” (Collection of Friends of Historic Kingston)

In his highly influential study of the corporate suburbanization of America in the 1950s, The Organization Man, sociologist William H. Whyte reported with amusement that IBM employees told him that the acronym really stood for “I’ve Been Moved.” Among the sprawl communities spawned by the construction of industrial parks to which “Beemers” might be relocated for the company’s convenience were, of course, the newer neighborhoods fringing Kingston, New York. When a company as massive as IBM hits its boom years, its impact on the shape of cities large and small has profound reverberations, persisting even long after its role in the world and national economy has significantly declined.

The Friends of Historic Kingston (FoHK) have put together an ambitious exhibit documenting Kingston: The IBM Years, currently on view in the organization’s Gallery at the corner of Wall and Main Streets in Uptown Kingston. The show 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 that they created for themselves locally. Under the direction of professor Roger Panetta of Fordham University, FoHK volunteers recorded more than 50 oral histories of people in the community, including IBMers themselves and others who did business with the company.

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The exhibit will include 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 mementos. Also included in the exhibit will be new photographs, commissioned from Hudson Valley photographer Stephen Benson, of post-World War II residential, commercial, civic and religious structures, from Cape-style houses in Whittier in Ulster Landing to ranch houses in Rolling Meadows in Hurley, plus Kingston’s Temple Emanuel on Albany Avenue and the M. Clifford Miller Junior High School in Lake Katrine. An illustrated book, co-published with Black Dome Press and featuring an essay by novelist Gail Godwin, accompanies the exhibition.

Admission to Kingston: The IBM Years, which will run though October 31, is free. Check the FoHK website at www.fohk.org for hours and details of associated talks and programs.

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