In the year 1956-57, Rochester, MN experienced a mysterious jump in the number of homes being built. Permits for new homes nearly doubled from 261 permits in 1956 to 501 in 1957. What type of phenomenon could cause such a rapid increase in homes; a record increase that would not be broken for another thirty years? The answer comes in the form of an announcement made by International Business Machines, or IBM. In 1956, IBM announced that a new plant was to be built in Rochester. In 1958, the campus opened with 1,500 employees.
Also known as “Big Blue,” the Rochester plant was designed by Eero Sarrinen. He was inspired by the different hues of blue in the Minnesota sky, so covered the building with blue panels to represent this. When the building first opened, there was approximately 576,000 square feet of floor space. The company has greatly expanded since then, and today contains 3.5 million square feet of space. The site houses a major development laboratory, a factory, various support buildings, and is Rochester’s second largest employer, followed by the Mayo Clinic.
For the first few decades of business, the Rochester plant focused mainly on manufacturing. Over the past few years, however, design has been increasingly emphasized. In 2006, IBM broke its own record for the number of patents awarded with 3,621 patents. The company in second place was at least 1,170 patents behind. As of 2006, IBM had earned more U.S. patents than any other company for fourteen years in a row. The Rochester branch of IBM is responsible for about 10 percent of the company’s overall patents.
A few of the major advancements and achievements of IBM in Rochester include the development and manufacturing of IBM’s main business-oriented computers, the System i and System p machines. System i was formally known as the AS/400, which is probably what the site is best known for. The Rochester location also holds the Blue Gene supercomputing system. The Blue Gene is the most powerful supercomputer with thousands of microprocessors, capable of performing 280 trillion operations per second. Remote access to Blue Gene has been available for customers and partners since 2005.
IBM products have also had a major influence on the gaming industry. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all use IBM parts that were designed in Rochester for their gaming systems. This area of the company, known as the Engineering and Technology Services division, is fairly recent, having been formed in 2002.
The Rochester site has received a number of awards for its work as well. In 1990, the AS/400 division received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Also in 1990, the company was recognized by the National Building Museum as one of the significant contributions of IBM to the built environments of the United States. IBM’s buildings in New York City and Atlanta, Georgia were also included. In 2004, the site claimed the top spot in the Top500 list of fast supercomputers with Blue Gene.
IBM has been a critical component of Rochester’s history. Before the company even built a facility here, the population was increasing because of rumors. Once the building opened, the company continued to grow, fueling growth of the city even more. Today, IBM remains an extremely successful business in Rochester, and will continue to be one with the technological contributions that it makes to its community and to society in general.