What Is Big Blue?

Big Blue is a nickname for the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) used in the popular and financial press since the 1980's. The moniker may have arisen from the blue tint of its early computer displays, or from the deep blue color of its corporate logo.

Key Takeaways

  • Big Blue refers to the IBM corporation, an early developer of both business machines and personal computers.
  • The nickname may refer to the color used in its logo, or from its blue-colored computer displays and cases prevalent in the 1960s through 1980s.
  • IBM is also a blue-chip stock, a mature and dominant company that is a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average index.
IBM logo
IBM Logo. www.ibm.com

Understanding Big Blue

Big Blue arose in the early 1980's in the popular and financial press as nickname for IBM. The name has unclear specific origins, but is generally assumed to refer to the blue tint of the cases of its computers.

The nickname was embraced by IBM, which has been content with leaving its origins remain in obscurity, and naming projects in homage of the sobriquet. Deep Blue, IBM’s chess-playing computer, challenged and ultimately defeated grandmaster Garry Kasparov in a controversial 1997 tournament.

Most reference point to what is said to be the first known print reference to the Big Blue nickname, appearing in the June 8, 1981 edition of BusinessWeek magazine, and attributed to an anonymous IBM enthusiast.

“No company in the computer business inspires the loyalty that IBM does, and the company has accomplished this with its almost legendary customer service and support … As a result, it is not uncommon for customers to refuse to buy equipment not made by IBM, even though it is often cheaper. ‘I don't want to be saying I should have stuck with the “Big Blue,”’ says one IBM loyalist. ‘The nickname comes from the pervasiveness of IBM's blue computers.’”

Other speculators have also associated the BIg Blue nickname with the company’s logo and its one-time dress code, as well as IBM’s historical association with blue-chip stocks.

History of Big Blue 

IBM began in 1911 as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company in Endicott, NY. CTR was a holding company created by Charles R. Flint that amalgamated four other companies that together produced scales, punch-card data processors, employee time clocks, and meat slicers. In 1924, CTR was renamed International Business Machines.

In the following century, IBM would go on to become of the world’s leading technological leaders, developing, inventing and building hundreds of hardware and software information technologies. IBM is responsible for many inventions which quickly became ubiquitous, including the UPC barcode, the magnetic stripe card, the personal computer, the floppy disk, the hard disk drive and the ATM.

IBM technologies were crucial to the implementation of U.S. government initiatives such as the launch of the Social Security Act in 1937 and many NASA missions, from the 1963 Mercury flight to the 1969 moon landing and beyond.

IBM holds the most U.S. patents of any business and to date IBM employees have been awarded many notable titles, including five Nobel Prizes and six Turing Awards.

One of the first multinational conglomerates to emerge in U.S. history, IBM maintains a multinational presence, operating in 174 countries worldwide and employing some 350,000 employees worldwide.