Bow Tie Friday?

I started my IBM career with very dirty hands.


Every day I would go to work and come home smeared with toner, ink, grease  and oil.

No I didn’t work for a newspaper or in a garage… I worked for IBM, fixing cheque sorters and printers. This was the late 1980s and early 1990s.  The years I spent working on IBMs 3800 and 3825 printers and 3890 cheque sorters were great years.   I loved working with my customers and I loved working on those big machines.   It was lots of fun… but there were lots of ways to get dirty.

What were these machines?   Well for one, the IBM 3800 was the worlds first commercial fan-fold laser printer (released in 1975!).  Here is a picture, but I would point out that this 3800 looks remarkably clean:

The 3890 Cheque Sorter was an enormous document processor that could move 2400 cheques per minute.  For even better clothing destruction, the 3890 has an ink jet printer that used a special ink that you could easily remove from any garment  – provided you used a pair of scissors.  As for the IBM 3825 Page Printer, it used Charged Area Development, which without very regular maintenance, could result in huge amounts of toner wandering around inside the machine.  No wonder the acronym for that technology is CAD.

And yet in all of this… I wore a suit and tie to work… every day… and I always wore a white shirt.  It was an IBM standard that had existed for a very long time.  People who turned up for work in a non-white shirt had better be a top performer and only the most remarkable or safety conscious turned up for work wearing something that is now rare in the workplace:   The Bow Tie.

The only other IT organization I knew that was just (if not more) obsessed with suit and tie?  EDS.

As for the System 38 utopian image below…. thats not me on the right!  I never wore tan trousers or short sleeves to work.   (Check out the size of those monitors!).

I never wore tan trousers

Things changed in the mid 1990s.   Suddenly we didn’t need to wear a tie.   Some of us started wearing corporate branded polo shirts.  Times had changed and we changed with them.  One irony is that I now regularly wear black business shirts to work, something that I would never have gotten away with in 1990. Yet today the closest I come to toner is when I go and get a printout from the printer.

If your interested in seeing some great photos of how IBMers used to dress, visit the IBM History exhibit here:  “The way we wore: A century of IBM attire”.  You could also head over to IBM’s 100 Icons of Progress and in particular visit The Making of IBM to see Thomas J Watson Snr looking very smooth indeed.

I was brought to reminiscing about this when visiting a client on a friday.  Friday has become casual clothes day at many organizations.   And yet given how far we have come… I am pondering why we bother?  In comparison to 20 years ago, every day is casual clothes day.   Perhaps its time to put aside the polo shirts and bring back the bow tie?   As Dr Who says “Bow Ties are Cool”

So are you with me?   Bow Tie Friday?
Comments always welcome.


About Anthony Vandewerdt

I am an IT Professional who lives and works in Melbourne Australia. This blog is totally my own work. It does not represent the views of any corporation. Constructive and useful comments are very very welcome.
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12 Responses to Bow Tie Friday?

  1. Great blog. I totally agree with you. In my opinion we have let standards slip in the way we dress. These days you don’t have to dress up for anything anymore, not for the office or for going out. So yes i agree bring back the bow tie, they are very cool.

  2. David Wright says:

    I’m an old “banking pig” (3890 CE) from Kansas City MO. Your blog brings back fond memories of dark suits, white shirts and wingtip shoes. I’ve ruined my share of shirts with that INF ink. The endorser ink wasn’t a whole lot better.
    I remember one nasty problem with a 3800 developer years ago, we had to dump out the toner in a trash can and hours later we ran an entire box of paper to test the machine. I removed the paper and forgetting all about that old toner in the trash can, I just dumped the whole stack in the can and engulfed myself and another CE in a toner dust storm!
    Are there still any 3890’s in Australia? There aren’t many in the U.S. and I’ve long since moved on to another trade far outside of IBM.
    The 3890 is a great machine when properly maintained and by computer standards it had an outstandingly long life span. It would sure make for an interesting book or documentary.

    • Hi David.
      So nice to read your comment!
      You reminded me of a colleague who managed to break off the lid of a 3820 toner bottle and cover himself in toner.
      He walked down to a local department store and bought a new shirt as his old (once crisp white) shirt was totally black!

      I certainly agree about the 3890, I am amazed there is not more out there on the net about it… one truly amazing machine.
      Sadly all the machines in Australia are now gone (as far as I know).

    • Gary p. says:

      David my name is Gary P. from Texas and i am still woking on 3890s and have been for 24 years. I too are a banking pig starting out a company called Recoginion Inc. out of Irving Texas started there in 1977. The 3890s are on their last leg and should be done by the end of 2013 or early 2014. Its been quite a ride and i will miss it when its done

      • Nice to hear your story! The 3890 is a truly great beast.

      • David Wright says:

        Now your part of Banctec, I’m sorry. B of A here may still have some but most of the 3890’s went to St. Louis years ago and I have no idea if they are still there or not. I worked in Dallas for a few months in ’88 and ’89 at what had been M Bank, and a couple of other accounts that I can’t remember. I was working for CFS at the time which got bought up by Banctec in the early 90’s.
        I miss the machine but I don’t miss the pager and the callouts!

      • Bonnie Abernathy says:

        Hello Gary P. I would love to talk to you!! Please message me!

  3. J. Wolf says:

    Things were even more casual on the set of the photo shoot. We just found this picture of my dad framed behind another and forgotten for decades. He says it was shot in Poughkeepsie, NY. Apparently, he was there to make sure the claims being made were true.

  4. Bonnie Abernathy says:

    Hello, This is very interesting to me! I have just acquired 24 – 3 trays each and the cyclone bags boxes of toner for the 3800. Do you know of anyone still using this printer?

    • Foot says:

      Hello Bonnie this is Gary P. the 3890 guy. You left me a message from a couple of years ago and here i am. Believe it or not i am still working on 3890s but the volume is only 30K a day far cry from the 1.5-2million a day per sorter. Feel free to message me back

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