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In the 20th century, IBM opened more than 800 sales and equipment maintenance offices around the world called “branch offices.”

These were scattered across nearly 170 countries and became IBM’s physical footprint visible to customers and communities. During the century, they housed tens of thousands of employees, making these the largest collection of organizations and buildings in any single company in the world of information processing.

Its sales and customer support came out of these organizations using the example of one branch office as a historical case study.

“In the 20th century, IBM opened more than 800 sales and equipment maintenance offices around the world called ‘branch offices.’ These were scattered across nearly 170 countries and became IBM’s physical footprint visible to customers and communities. During the century, they housed tens of thousands of employees, making these the largest collection of organizations and buildings in any single company in the world of information processing. Only computer users—IBM’s customers—collectively had more buildings, data centers, and employees than IBM. Yet historians and many participants in computing know almost nothing about these offices, about how they were organized, who worked in them, or the role they played in IBM’s sales operations,” writes James W. Cortada, a senior research fellow at the Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota. He worked in five IBM sales branch offices in the 1970s and 1980s.

Read more about the personal perspectives of having worked with these offices during the 1970s and 1980s in the July-September 2017 issue of IEEE Annals of the History of Computing.