The Golden Age of IBM Advertising


January 1956

This ad's so inspiring it almost makes me wish I'd been around in 1956 to seek a "provocative" job as an IBM field technician. I love the reference to "the world's largest computer"-it wouldn't be that much longer before the only size-related bragging that computer companies did would involve miniaturization, not enormity.

The machine in question was the IBM 702-an archetypal room-filling mainframe that used magnetic tape rather than familiar punch cards. It was the company's first real commercial computer, and it was already out of production when this ad ran.

November 1956
You thought Steve Jobs invented the idea of gizmos in multiple colors? More than forty years before polychromatic Macs, IBM offered typewriters in six scintillating hues: Yellow Jasmine, Titian Glow, Larkspur Blue, Dove Grey, Cascade Grey, and Tropic Tan. I'm not sure whether this lady got an IBM to match her flowers or vice versa.

Note also that workmen were apparently allowed to smoke in the office in 1956.

February 1957
Here's how you knew you'd made it in American business in 1957: You got a perky secretary, a fancier lamp, and a painting (of yourself?-I can't quite tell) behind your desk. You also had to wear a three-piece suit and take up using a pocket watch. Oh, and being male was pretty much mandatory.

The IBM typewriter in this ad was an impressive piece of technology-the only available model with proportionally-spaced characters. IBM bragged that it permitted the preparation of right-justified documents. (One catch: They had to be typed twice, using special variable-width space bars.)

December 1980
Fast-forward twenty-two years. By the early 1980s, the typewriter was a dead gadget walking-not just because of the personal computer (IBM would announce its first PC a little over six months after this ad appeared) but also because of word processors such as those popularized by Wang Labs in the 1970s.

This ad shows just how incredibly mature typewriters had gotten: IBM couldn't claim that the Selectric III would boost your career or impress your customers. Instead, it had to try and get prospective buyers jazzed about refinements such as non-reflective keys. It took another eleven years for it to get out of the typewriter business period. Mainframes, however, it still makes.

More tech nostalgia on Technologizer:

How 1940s Whiskey Ads Predicted the Future

The 13 Other Greatest Error Messages of All Time

The Odd Fates of 25 Legendary Tech Products

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