At the beginning of World War II, Thomas Watson, Sr., IBM’s chairman, offered President Franklin Roosevelt IBM facilities for manufacturing armaments. This resulted in the establishment, in 1941, of the Munitions Manufacturing Company in Poughkeepsie, New York. Soon IBM added other buildings nearby and then created a network of laboratories. Research in these laboratories would lead directly to IBM’s decision to expand operations northward across the Hudson River to Kingston.
The IBM main plant was dedicated on November 2, 1956 on 200 acres in the Town of Ulster. IBM Kingston recruited locally for assembly line workers but also sought out professionals locally, nationally, and even internationally. Thousands of people worked at the IBM plant, and thousands more owned or worked for local businesses that benefited from the presence of IBM in the community. Some people built homes for new arrivals, some supplied IBM with equipment, others taught IBMers’ children or sold them their cars. The Kingston area transformed, with new suburbs popping up in all directions.
IBM Kingston’s peak employment—7,100 workers—was in 1985. By 1990, there were 5,700 people. Then in 1993, what was known as “The Downsizing” began. By the end of 1993, they had decreased to 4,300 employees. By July 1994, there were only 1,500 left. It was then that IBM announced the Kingston plant would be closing. The loss of IBM was devastating for both Kingston and Ulster County. It has been estimated that IBM counted for 12% of the county’s entire economy. Businesses that served IBM and IBMers suffered. The housing market was glutted with properties as IBM employees who relocated to other areas sold their homes.
Fortunately, thousands of IBM families stayed in the region, continuing to contribute to the economy and volunteering for scores of non-profits. Though Kingston was initially hurt by the loss of IBM, its unique neighborhoods continue to grow, and are thriving with new businesses.