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Book Review: Kingston—The IBM Years

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IBM_Cover          IBM’s arrival in Kingston triggered a period of massive change for the town and its residents. At its peak, the company employed 7,100 people in the mid-Hudson Valley. Kingston—The IBM Years is a collection of essays and photographs that brings this turning point in Hudson Valley history to vivid life. Featuring essays from six different authors, this book examines the impact of IBM from various perspectives including professors, novelists, journalists, and first-hand accounts from former IBM employees. Collectively, these vastly different chapters work together to create a panoramic vision of Kingston during these years. The photographs that accompany these essays are as evocative as the essays themselves, capturing the mood and lifestyle of an era.

The first essay, written by Harvey Flad of Vassar College, details the rise of IBM in Poughkeepsie and Kingston as a primarily military company. The S.A.G. E. system developed here in 1957 was the first of its kind, an expansive air warning system relied on by the United States Air Force. The essays that follow relate similar signature achievements of IBM in Kingston, including the production of the FAA nationwide airline control system and the invention of the first interactive software systems, software that laid the groundwork for computers as we know them today.

There is a wealth of information here about the sociological effects of IBM in the Kingston area, but information is not the sole purpose of this book. What makes Kingston—The IBM Years so unique is its exploration of the personal and the intimate, as it looks beyond mere facts and statistics and gives us a glimpse into the real lives of the people involved. Perhaps the most fascinating portion of the book is the essay by Lowell Thing, a former employee of IBM Kingston who experienced firsthand the changes detailed in the other chapters. The small details that Thing provides, such as how his daughters learned to swim at the IBM recreation center, bring the history from the regional to the personal. The book gives a wholly human perspective on a period of massive change in Hudson Valley history.

The publication of Kingston: The IBM Years was coordinated with a multimedia exhibition put on by the Friends of Historic Kingston on the same era. The organization described the program as its “most ambitious annual exhibition ever,” and ran it from May to October. More details can be found about The Friends of Historic Hudson at www.fohk.org. The book may be ordered online at www.blackdomepress.com

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