Abstract: Diebold and Associates, Information Technology Consulting, and the Diffusion of Knowledge on Digital Computers and Applications Programming in the 1950s

Jeffrey R. Yost


The first digital computers in the United States resulted from World War II Department of Defense-sponsored research and development projects to build machines of unprecedented calculating power and accuracy for scientific and engineering military applications. This study focuses on what led to the relatively rapid diffusion of highly expensive and uncertain digital computing technology to the corporate sector during the second half of the 1950s. While the computer industry has been examined in some depth by scholars, the computer services industry's role in early corporate and institutional computing has been vastly understudied. The paper briefly provides historiographical context to this emerging industry before concentrating on one of the computing services trade's earliest and most important segments—consulting services—through a case study of pioneering firm Diebold and Associates. This firm was founded (in 1954) and led by John Diebold, famed author of the book <em>Automation</em> published in 1952. Diebold was an expert on factory automation and among the foremost authorities in the world on office automation in the early 1950s. Drawing on extensive client reports of Diebold and Associates held at the Charles Babbage Institute, the paper demonstrates the many and varied ways this pioneering consulting company helped a range of corporations and institutions enter the digital age.