If you’ve ever driven south of the Twin Cities on State Highway 52, you may have noticed the vibrant, blue-tinted buildings with almost skyscraper-like glass panels. As you’re looking at them, you may have even wondered why such modern buildings would even be located in the outskirts of metro-Minnesota. Let alone, in the middle of farm fields.

Designed by famed architect Eero Saarinen in 1956, IBM Rochester’s progressive architecture symbolized growth and cutting-edge technology. The buildings are a representation of the East Coast-native company’s vision, which, at that time, revolved around expansion to the rest of United States and eventually the world.

As for the blue color? Minnesota gets credit for that. Saarinen was inspired by Minnesota’s blue skies and lakes. Despite the company’s roots on the East Coast, the startling hue of the Minnesota building does make one wonder: Did IBM earn the nickname “Big Blue” because of Saarinen’s architectural design rather than the blue tint of its computers?

Since IBM Rochester’s opening in 1958, the outpost has developed some of the leading, most innovative computers in the world, including the top two fastest supercomputers.

On a recent tour of this Eero Saarinen building, Tory Johnson, IBM’s Senior State Executive in Minnesota, explained why one of world’s largest tech companies chose to expand its footprint in Rochester, Minn.

 

To learn more about other tech giants in Minnesota that changed the landscape of the computing industry as we know it today, watch Solid State: Minnesota’s High-Tech History, coming in October 2019.

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Fun fact worth filing away: For decades, humble, boring Minnesota was the undisputed epicenter of top-secret digital computing. So you should probably take a moment to find out “How MN Became the Land of 10,000 Top-Secret Computing Projects.”

You heard it here: Minnesota is no stranger to pioneering innovation and invention that have global ripple effects. For example, two Minnesota husband-and-wife teams – the Piccards and the Winzens – pioneered high-altitude ballooning in the years leading up to the Space Race. Discover more about their stories.

Meanwhile, in Northfield, Minn., the G. T. Schjeldahl Company made a strategic move to leverage its innovative designs for plastic bread bags to develop inflatable sounding balloons that were sent into the atmosphere. Dubbed “satelloons,” the invention was part balloon, part satellite. Read all about it.