10 admirable things about IBM on its 100th birthday

Big Blue has a shown a decades-long commitment to equal opportunity, scientific research

IBM turns 100 years old on Thursday, and while the media have focused on Big Blue's computer technology innovations and incredible success as a corporation, let's not overlook the company's long-standing record of progressive policies regarding its employees, as well as its contributions to scientific research and commitment to evenly sliced cheese.

Here are 10 admirable things about IBM (with maybe a couple of jokes thrown in):

1. IBM researchers have won five Nobel prizes, including four for physics and one for economics.

2. A century ago, IBM's hoop cheese slicer was second to none!

3. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, IBM becomes one of the first corporations to provide employees with group life insurance (1934), survivor benefits (1935) and paid vacations (1937).

4. During World War II, IBM facilities make major ordnance items for the U.S. military, including rifle and engine parts. Chief executive Thomas J. Watson Sr. prices a 1 percent profit into the products, using the money to create a fund to help support the families of IBM workers killed in action.

5. IBM in 1942 starts a program in Topeka, Kansas, to train and employ people with disabilities. It began similar classes in New York City the next year. IBM subsequently is invited to join the President's Committee for Employment of the Handicapped.

6. Big Blue announces in 1947 a "total and permanent" disability income plan for IBM workers.

7. New chief executive Thomas J. Watson Jr. in 1952 publishes IBM's first written equal opportunity policy letter. Nine years later IBM officially expands its policy to include "sex, national origin, and age."

8. In 1956, IBM opens the first fully integrated plant in the South, in Lexington, Ky. a city that would remain segregated for another five years. But at the IBM plant, black and white employees work and eat side by side.

9. In 1996, Big Blue establishes domestic partner benefits for its gay and lesbian employees.

10. After trouncing Jeopardy! game show champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter early this year, IBM's artificial intelligence program Watson neither gloats nor trash-talks its vanquished human opponents. However, jubilant IBMers at the company's headquarters celebrate the victory by overturning cars, setting fires and looting stores in downtown Armonk, N.Y. (Kidding!)

Happy birthday, Big Blue.

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