Photo of Erich Bloch

Erich Bloch

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Computer Science

For their contributions to the development of the hardware, architecture and systems engineering associated with the IBM System/360, a computer system and technologies which revolutionized the data processing industry and which helped to make the United States dominant in computer technology for many years.

Erich Bloch, a native of Germany, moved to Switzerland at the age of 14 and there he obtained his pre-college education. He studied electrical engineering for 2 years at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology before immigrating to the US in 1948.

Bloch worked at IBM from 1952 to 1981 in a variety of technology management roles, including overseeing the manufacturing challenges of IBM’s groundbreaking “System/360” family of mainframe computers in the 1960s.

“When I started at IBM, I was looked at as a screwball. ‘Yeah, he wants to play around with computers’,” Bloch shared in an interview. “I didn’t want to play around with them—I wanted to put them to use.” IBM’s System/360 was the first family of computers that were designed to cover a complete range of applications, from small to large, both commercial and scientific, and could be customized and upgraded to fit with the needs of a growing company.

Bloch served as director at the U.S. National Science Foundation from 1984 to 1990. He was characterized by Science magazine as an “adept politician and a strong advocate for research,” and was ahead of his time in promoting the link between basic research and economic development.

By Jen Santisi