So Big and So Square and So True
March 28, 2022 2:26 PM   Subscribe

Songs of The IBM is the 1937 corporate hymnal that proclaims "there is no God but IBM and T.J. Watson is his prophet" with lyrics praising the company's founder. It is impossible to overstate how cult-like these songs are, extolling not just Watson, but also the T-H-I-N-K Slogan, the Vice Presidents, District Managers, and each of the seven Product Lines (Tabulation, ITR, Industrial Scales, Writing Machines, Radiotype, Proof Machines, and Ticketographs).
Thomas Watson is our inspiration,
Head and soul of our splendid I. B. M.
We are pledged to him in every nation,
Our President and most beloved man.
T. J. Watson, we all honor you,
You're so big and so square and so true,
We will follow and serve with you forever,
All the world must know what I. B. M. can do.
This post was inspired by a sort of Industrial Musical scene in a recent episode of Severance and a distant memory of previously "Singing the Big Blues" (2012), making this sort of a ten year #DoublesJubilee (hopefully not too late!). The older post has some links that have bitrotted, although luckily the internet archive has's corporate anthems mp3 files.
posted by autopilot (17 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
One of my favorite finds of the last year is Johann Johannson.

IBM 1401, A User’s Manual "IBM 1403 Printer"
posted by art.bikes at 2:53 PM on March 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

wow I really need to catch up on Severance
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:43 PM on March 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

Fuck IBM

IBM, primarily through its German subsidiary, made Hitler's program of Jewish destruction a technologic mission the company pursued with chilling success. IBM Germany, using its own staff and equipment, designed, executed, and supplied the indispensable technologic assistance Hitler's Third Reich needed to accomplish what had never been done before-the automation of human destruction. More than 2,000 such multi-machine sets were dispatched throughout Germany, and thousands more throughout German-dominated Europe. Card sorting operations were established in every major concentration camp. People were moved from place to place, systematically worked to death, and their remains cataloged with icy automation.

IBM Germany, known in those days as Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft, or Dehomag, did not simply sell the Reich machines and then walk away. IBM's subsidiary, with the knowledge of its New York headquarters, enthusiastically custom-designed the complex devices and specialized applications as an official corporate undertaking. Dehomag's top management was comprised of openly rabid Nazis who were arrested after the war for their Party affiliation. IBM NY always understood-from the outset in 1933-that it was courting and doing business with the upper echelon of the Nazi Party. The company leveraged its Nazi Party connections to continuously enhance its business relationship with Hitler's Reich, in Germany and throughout Nazi-dominated Europe.

posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 4:16 PM on March 28, 2022 [12 favorites]

I'm in the middle of Severance now, the attention to detail in the show is amazing. I gathered the crazy stuff about the Lumen founders was inspired by real American business history, but I didn't realise it was exactly like this.

A throw-away line in the linked article, "... companies began to turn to "t-shirts [and] mugs" to reward employees, rather than the joy of shared song" also seems relevant.

One really appealing aspect of the design in Severance is the way, in the alternate universe of the show, historical periods are blended seamlessly. The 1930s-type corporate singing and motivational handbooks sit well alongside 70s brutalist architecture and office decor.
posted by riddley at 5:13 PM on March 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

Years ago, I worked with an attorney who did some work for a company with a major North American retail presence. He told me that, as a condition of his handling work for this company, it was expected that he would attend their annual meeting, at which several such songs were to be sung in praise of the company and its leadership. He allowed that it was very silly but the work he did for this company was a large part of his business so he participated enthusiastically.
posted by gauche at 5:33 PM on March 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

70s brutalist architecture

The Bell Labs building featured in the series was designed by Eero Saarinen, who is probably most famous for the TWA terminal at JFK airport and I think it's fair to think of his work as more neo-futurist that brutalist.

While the Holmdel building itself is rather squared off, in context with the surrounding park it has the curves that you'd expect of forward-facing 60s optimism.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:47 PM on March 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Look, we've all got feelings about IBM, but you have to admit that "TO W. W. McDOWELL, ASSISTANT TO VICE PRESIDENT TITUS, ENDICOTT PLANT" is a legit banger.

(Besides, what have you done for your executive assistant lately? This year, skip the flowers and consider penning an ode to them in the company hymnal instead!)
posted by phooky at 6:16 PM on March 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

You B.M.
We all B.M.
For I.B.M.

-- David Gerrold, When H.A.R.L.I.E. Was One
posted by bryon at 8:45 PM on March 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

The existence of the IBM songbook was so well-known back in the 1950s that Mad Magazine did a parody of it. From issue #48, July 1959, by Frank Jacobs:
"Think" --
The Song Of The IBM Workers

(To the tune of "The Song Of The Vagabonds")

Oh, you math'-ma-ticians,
Work-ers and tech-nicians,
Think! Think! Think for IBM!
Oh, you o-pera-tors
Of those cal-cu-la-tors,
Think! Think! Think for IBM!
On-ward, boys! Com-pute until you find
How to make ma-chines replace the mind!
What if au-to-mation
Idles half the nation;
We'll still work for IBM!
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:11 PM on March 28, 2022 [6 favorites]

I had always known a little about industrial musicals but never went down that rabbit hole...until just now when I found the trailer for Bathubs Over Broadway on Netflix.

Guess I'm diving in for the next week or so. Thanks!

And, they actually do kind of live on in a way... except now it's just easier and cheaper to hire Jennifer Lopez to put on a private performance for a room full of McDonald's franchisees than it is to produce an entire one-time musical performance from scratch.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:30 PM on March 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Among the BASIC programs I had for my original model Tandy 1000 was this follow-the-bouncing-ball singalong of "Ever Onward".
posted by CrunchyFrog at 10:32 PM on March 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

The Mad Magazine parody is fun, although it wouldn't be out of place in the original since the source material is so zany. It would fit perfectly on page 49 after this song extolling the sales department's interplanetary expansion:
We sell goods in many countries;
We have spanned the Seven Seas!
If they use machines in Mars,
We will sell them some of ours,
Just to prove our sales po-ten-tial-i-ties!
posted by autopilot at 1:25 AM on March 29, 2022 [3 favorites]

Oh, this has touched on memory for me as well. Many years ago, around 1990 or so, I was in my high school Jazz band.

Like most school non-sports programs, the music program had very little money, so in order to pay for trips to music festivals and competitions, our band director would arrange "gigs" for us to play.

One such gig was at a meeting for our local Rotary Club. We played a couple of tunes, people clapped, then the Rotary Club had to sing one of their... hymns? I only remember it going "R-O-T-A-R-Y, that spells Rotary!" and me and my friends sort of glancing at each other like "wtf is this shit?!"
posted by Fleebnork at 4:45 AM on March 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

We had a copy of one of these, a left over from my mother's time at IBM (late forties, early fifties). She said that the whole thing was considered something of an amusing goof.
posted by BWA at 4:57 AM on March 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

I don’t know if they do it any more, but when I worked a summer job at Walmart around 1990 we were expected to begin each shift with the Walmart Cheer, which extolled the values of Walmart and pride in store #461.

Thankfully I cannot remember the words.
posted by Ookseer at 6:54 AM on March 29, 2022 [3 favorites]

At first, I was going to mock this corporate religion. But then, the spirit of International Business awakened within me.

Fellow MeFites, I’ve Been Moved.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:19 PM on March 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

There's a great moment from an episode of QI where Stephen Fry introduces a question about industrial musicals by challenging the panel to "describe the plot of, or sing me a song from, the musical The Bathrooms Are Coming." It's kind of clear he expected at most some befuddled looks or maybe one or two lines of doggerel, but the panel really gets into it - complete with Bill Bailey accompanying them on a keyboard, so it's a couple minutes before Stephen can explain what he's talking about.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:29 AM on March 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

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