ENIAC was one of the first computers to use electronic circuits, which made for lightning-fast calculations. Former chairman of IBM, Thomas J. Watson, Jr., at first saw no use for it. He said, ‘I reacted to ENIAC the way some people probably reacted to the Wright brothers’ airplane. It didn’t move me at all…I couldn’t see this gigantic, costly, unreliable device as a piece of business equipment.’
A few weeks later, he and his father wandered into a research office at IBM and saw an engineer with a high-speed punch-card machine hooked up to a black box. When asked what he was doing, he said, ‘Multiplying with radio tubes.’ The machine was tabulating payroll at one-tenth of the time it took the standard punch-card machine to do so. Watson recalls, ‘That impressed me as though somebody had hit me on the head with a hammer.’ He said, ‘Dad, we should put this thing on the market! Even if we only sell eight or ten, we’ll be able to advertise the fact that we have the world’s first commercial electronic calculator.’
And that’s how IBM got into electronics. Within a year, IBM had electronic circuits that both multiplied and divided, and at that point, electronic calculators became truly useful. Thousands of IBM 604s were sold!