This blog is for all of you out there who like to take a quiz. In particular, what do you really know about the corporate icons of our technological landscape that have shaped our world over multiple generations and that have provided the platform for the creation of innumerable intellectual property rights and the legal practice to support them?
The quiz begins with a birthday. Anyone who loves technological longevity just had to feel pangs of elation in mid-June, when IBM celebrated its 100th birthday. From tabulating machines to data processing cards to mainframe computers to PC computers to the hardware-software behemoth of today (with a few existential thrills thrown in, especially in the early 1990s), there is something almost mystical about reaching 100 years of age (actually going back to 1885 if one counts the earliest of the four companies that came together in 1911 to create the modern company). This is especially so when one considers the combination of continuity with product innovation that has marked IBM's success over the years.
Talking about technology/hi-tech and the like in same breath as history may seem odd. After all, with our preoccupation on the here and now, Google is measured against Alta Vista, Explorer is measured against Netscape, Word is measured against Word Perfect, and Wang is measured against..., well, I am not sure. The common denominator is the compression of time, a decade at the least, 30 years or so at the most. History--what history?
That is why the 100th birthday of IBM was so exciting. For a history of technology buff like this Kat (witness the row of books on the subject in my study), the celebrations of IBM occasioned reflections on the handful of companies that have succesfully remade themselves multiple times. How many such prominent companies are there and how far back do they reach in time? One such list was recently suggested by Bloomberg Business Week, which described the following companies: Siemens, Western Union, Diebold, AT&T, Ericsson, NCR, Nintendo, Eastman Kodak, Xerox and IBM. To that list let me throw in GE, Nokia and HP.
And so the quiz: without the crutch of on-line search (consultations with colleagues are permitted), can you take this list of companies and place them in chronological order, from the oldest to the youngest? For bonus points, can you identify the main products of each company listed over time? All such efforts by readers are welcome.