US business executive. He worked at National Cash Register (NCR) in Dayton, Ohio (1896–1911), becoming general sales manager. During that period he learned the punch-card industry. Sales became the driving force in all he did, particularly after he formed International Business Machines (IBM) by merging several other companies in 1924. By 1929, IBM controlled 20% of the punch device market.
Watson was born in Cambell, New York. A brilliant salesman, he rose through the ranks of NCR. However, as NCR monopolized the cash register business, he nearly ended up in jail; along with other NCR executives, he was convicted and fined for criminal conspiracy in restraint of trade. After being thrown out of NCR, Watson became general manager of the tiny Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR) in New York, which was heir to the tabulating machines that Herman Hollerith had developed for the US Census Bureau. Watson used what he had learned at NCR to develop CTR – which was later renamed IBM – into one of the world's largest and most profitable industrial corporations. In the 1930s, IBM was convicted of being an illegal monopolist but this had no apparent effect on its progress, and later anti-trust cases also made little immediate impact. When computers were developed, Watson's son and successor, Thomas Watson, Jr, was able to convert IBM's monopoly of data processing using punched cards into a monopoly of commercial computing, which survived until microprocessors changed the nature of the business.