From Kennedy to Obama: Inaugural Technology

How well do you know your presidents and IT?

by / January 26, 2009

Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama drank from a Lincoln cup to invoke the 16th president, and took the oath of office on the Lincoln Bible. If Obama had wanted to invoke another past president, say, Bill Clinton, perhaps he should have traded in his BlackBerry for an Apple Newton MessagePad. Or if the president wanted to reference Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency, he could have lugged an IBM 2361 Storage Unit onto the Capitol steps. It might not be as emotionally powerful (or compact) as the Lincoln Bible, but at least it would resonate for IT personnel.

Every president has taken office amidst new technological innovations, from the creation of the supercomputer to the success of the BlackBerry and the iPhone. And with the inauguration of each president, it is up to the government to decide which innovations will be utilized by the public sector and which will be left by the wayside.

Here are IT highlights during the time of each presidential inauguration starting with Kennedy, along with a few other historical facts.

President: John F. Kennedy

Year of Inauguration: 1961
Information Technology Highlight: IBM Stretch Computing System. The computer pioneered advanced systems such as pipelining, the transistor and the byte, making multiprogramming possible. Originally priced at $13.5 million, it was the fastest computer until 1964.
Government Use of IT: The U.S. National Security Agency used the IBM Stretch as its main central processing unit (CPU), while agencies such as the Weather Bureau and the Navy also utilized the system.
Size of Federal Government Budget: $100 billion
No. 1 Movie: West Side Story
No. 1 Song: Bobby Lewis, Tossin' and Turnin'


President: Lyndon B. Johnson

Year of Inauguration: 1965
Information Technology Highlight: IBM 2361 Storage Unit. The IBM 2361 was the largest computer memory ever built, with 16 times the capacity of any previous IBM memory.
Government Use of IT: NASA Space Station used IBM 2361s to process large quantities of information used by NASA-based flight controllers for the Apollo and Gemini missions.
Size of Federal Government Budget: $120 billion
No. 1 Movie: The Sound of Music
No. 1 Song: Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Wooly Bully

President: Richard Nixon

Year of Inauguration: 1969
Information Technology Highlight: ARPANET (Advanced Research Project Agency network). ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet, was developed as a military computer network.
Government Use of IT: ARPANET sites were created by the Department of Defense and the Federal Reserve Board.
Size of Federal Government Budget: $180 billion
No. 1 Movie: Midnight Cowboy
No. 1 Song: The Archies, Sugar, Sugar


President: Gerald Ford

Year of Inauguration: 1974
Information Technology Highlight: Cray-1. Developed in 1974 but not installed until 1976, this supercomputer became one of the best and most successful in history.
Government Use of IT: Agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as various university laboratories, used the Cray-1A for modeling climate and severe storms.
Size of Federal Government Budget: $270 billion
No. 1 Movie: The Godfather Part II
No. 1

Song: Barbra Streisand, The Way We Were


President: Jimmy Carter

Year of Inauguration: 1977
Information Technology Highlight: Apple II. This system was the first successful microcomputer produced for the public market. The computer originally cost $1298.
Government Use of IT: The Apple II became the standard computer used in the public education system, particularly with the release of the spreadsheet VisiCalc in 1979.
Size of Federal Government Budget: $410 billion
No. 1 Movie: Annie Hall
No. 1 Song: Rod Stewart, Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright)


President: Ronald Reagan

Year of Inauguration: 1981
Information Technology Highlight: Osborne I; IBM PC. The dawn of personal computing in the workplace was about to sweep the country.
Government Use of IT: Government was slow to embrace the "microcomputer" era, instead sticking with mainframes for the most part; some smaller governments started to use minicomputers.
Size of Federal Government Budget: $680 billion
No. 1 Movie: Chariots of Fire
No. 1 Song: Kim Carnes, Bette Davis Eyes


President: George H. W. Bush

Year of Inauguration: 1989
Information Technology Highlight: World Wide Web; Desktop Publishing. Two tech acronyms -- WWW and WYSIWYG -- come to symbolize the fast-paced promise of change brought on by computers.
Government Use of IT: Although e-mail had been around in proprietary formats, the combination of the Internet and commercial services, such as CompuServe, significantly increased its use in both the public and private sectors.
Size of Federal Government Budget: $1.1 trillion
No. 1 Movie: Rain Man
No. 1 Song: Chicago, Look Away


President: Bill Clinton

Year of Inauguration: 1993
Information Technology Highlight: Apple Newton MessagePad. This early PDA had handwriting recognition, fax and printing support, and other capabilities. Commercially it was a dud.
Government Use of IT: Client-server began its rapid rollout in government, decentralizing data and data centers to agencies and departments.
Size of Federal Government Budget: $1.4 trillion
No. 1 Movie: Schindler's List
No. 1 Song: Whitney Houston, I Will Always Love You


President: George W. Bush

Year of Inauguration: 2001
Information Technology Highlight: BlackBerry. The BlackBerry smartphone supports e-mail, text messaging, Web browsing and mobile phone service. Millions of business and government executives embrace (and pray to) this new wireless tool.
Government Use of IT: The number of e-government applications grows as the public sector attempts to put as much information (and the occasional service) as possible on the Web.
Size of Federal Government Budget: $1.9 trillion
No. 1 Movie: A Beautiful Mind
No. 1 Song: Lifehouse, Hanging by a Moment


President: Barack Obama

Year of Inauguration: 2009
Information Technology Highlight: Cloud Computing. This new innovation involves storing data and obtaining resources "as a service" through a shared "cloud" of Internet servers.
Government Use of IT: Government consolidates data centers, shares services and uses business analytic tools, all in an effort to reduce costs while improving IT's public value.
Size of Federal Government Budget: $3.1 trillion
No. 1 Movie: Slumdog Millionaire
No. 1 Song: Beyonce, Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)