Ann “Nancy” Symington and Caroline Morong said June 14 that being part of the family that created computer and business machine giant IBM was challenging and rewarding.

The company, which began as the International Business Machine Corporation, will celebrate its 100th birthday on Thursday, June 16.

Symington, who served with the American Red Cross in Burma during World War II, married Arthur K. Watson, son of IBM founder Thomas Watson Sr. Morong, one of the couple’s six children, said her mother devoted herself to raising the children and managing their home in New Canaan, Conn.

Watson rose early each morning and took a train to New York City where, beginning in 1949, he directed the activities of IBM’s World Trade Corporation subsidiary. According the website at www-03.ibm.com, IBM sales outside the United States when Watson formed the unit in 1949 were less than $50 million.

IBM — A brief history of innovation

IBM is marking its 100-year anniversary on Thursday, June 16. The following information about IBM’s history and innovations was found at the IT History Society website at ithistory.org.

“Although much has changed since the company was formed on June 16, 1911, the one constant at IBM has been its focus on making the world work better,” the website states. “In 1926, IBM President Thomas J. Watson Sr., said, ‘Everything we do in our work is benefiting the business interests and the social welfare of the whole world.’ That focus on innovation has helped produce many things we take for granted today.”

In 1944 IBM presented its first large-scale calculator, the ASCC, to Harvard University. Also called the Mark I, it was the first machine capable of executing long computations automatically.

In the 1950s IBM introduced hard disk drives and magnetic tape storage, leading to the popularization of computers. In the1960s the company was involved in the development of online transaction processing, word processing, computer memory, space exploration and magnetic stripe technology.

The IBM diskette, one of the first transportable data storage products was developed in the 1970s. In 1971 IBM created the floppy disk, which made storage powerful and affordable, and made the PC revolution possible. The company was instrumental in the creation of bar codes, relational databases and data encryption, leading to the spread, in the 1980s, of personal computers and the Internet.

Lasik surgery, mobile telecommunications, read-write optical materials and supercomputing were part of IBM’s work in the 1990s. More recently, the company has developed gaming stations.

“These milestones didn’t just happen — it took talented, dedicated people years, even decades, of effort,” the IT History Society website states. “But it also took a corporate commitment to staying ahead of the technology curve.

“Throughout its 100 years, IBM has remained in a constant state of renewal and reinvention — ensuring a constant stream of innovation whatever the state of technology or the global economy. Its evolution has defined — perhaps more so than any other company — the DNA of today’s technology.”

“When he resigned in 1970 to become Ambassador to France, IBM World Trade Corporation sales had grown to more than $2.5 billion, and the company had established business operations in 108 countries,” the company website states. His wife often traveled with him as he visited foreign countries to promote IBM.

“As a child, my parents were gone a lot,” said Morong. “But my mother never missed an event for us kids.”

Morong said one of her fondest memories from those years is of her mother working on crossword puzzles using an IBM “THINK” pencil. That single word was the company’s motto for most of its advertising campaigns and was the name of IBM’s employee publication.

Mostly, the company did not intrude into family life, said Morong.

“If there were events we were invited,” she said.

“As a kid, growing up, I was kind of embarrassed about it, because it was such a big company,” she said. “Now I have such pride about the innovation and the vision they have.”

She said she and her five siblings were fortunate to have grown up in the family she had.

“The hardest part was that he was gone a lot,” said Morong. “But along with that came great opportunity.” She said the family traveled a great deal.

Morong was 20 years old when her father died in 1974, at the age of 55.

“He left mom with three growing boys,” she said. “My uncle [Thomas Watson Jr.] was in charge of the board and was very supportive of my mom.” His wife, Olive, was “a great lady,” said Morong.

She said Olive Watson could relate to the challenges of marrying into “this incredible, high-powered, innovative company.”

“There was a lot of pressure, being a Watson. [Mom] handled it beautifully,” said Morong.

Morong said rapid changes in technology were very exciting, but that there were negative sides to many innovations.

“Our world is moving fast for young people,” she said. “They don’t learn as much about traditions.” She said today’s families often had both parents working outside the home and that a lot of children missed out on the simple parts of life such as time out of doors and shared family tasks.

“We were given quite a legacy, growing up with the name of IBM,” said Morong. “You were always pre-judged. But we were brought up in a humbling environment.” She said her parents had high expectations for their children.

Now, she said, she tries to make sure people know who she is, as a person, before they learn that her grandfather was the founder of IBM.

“IBM really took care of employees,” she said. “It was a sense of pride to work for that family.” She said the company created neighborhoods for its workers and supported their education and advancement.

“They were really good people who appreciated their jobs and were proud to work for IBM,” she said.

“My grandfather, I think, was a pretty hard man,” she said.

“He had high expectations,” said Symington. “He was a lovely man.”

Symington is 92 years old and has 20 grandchildren living in all parts of the United States. She said she had already taken her first sail of the season aboard Anjacaa, which is named for her three daughters, Ann, Jane and Caroline. The last “a” in the boat’s name was added to satisfy a superstition that calls for a boat name to have seven letters.

“Mom’s birthday is when we all come together,” said Morong. She said she was fortunate to live where she could see her mother every day.

Morong is a registered nurse.

“I love to take care of people,” she said. She said that commitment to community was part of what her parents, and her father’s company, instilled in her and her siblings.

In the 1970s Watson donated the first chair lift to be installed at the Camden Snow Bowl. Symington was involved with the Camden Public Library and the Penobscot Bay YMCA, and Morong is active with the Make-A-Wish foundation and United Mid-Coast Charities.

“There are so many good causes in this community,” she said.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by email at sauciello@villagesoup.com.