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COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:867 1906-2003 D559

John Diebold papers


The John Diebold papers consist of correspondence, consulting material, business planning, investments, publishing, and the non-profit activities of automation expert, consultant, and HBS alum John Diebold from 1906-2003.


  • 1906-2003


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Some materials may be stored offsite; access requires advance notice. Contact for more information.

Restricted material has been identified and separated. Note that box and folder lists of restricted material have been redacted.

Due to the fragility of audiovisual materials and the difficulty with play back, researchers must work with digital copies rather than with the original recordings. Digital use copies for items that have been digitized can be accessed only onsite in the de Gaspé Beaubien Reading Room on a designated Special Collections computer. Researchers are not permitted to copy or download any digital files. To request access please contact prior to visiting the library.

Please note that digital use copies have not been created for every item listed in this finding aid.

Digital use copies of born-digital content can be accessed only onsite in the de Gaspé Beaubien Reading Room on a designated Special Collections computer. Researchers are not permitted to copy or download any digital files. To request access please contact prior to visiting the library.


110 linear feet (134 boxes, 137 volumes, 9 cartons)
3 gigabytes* (11 digital audio files, 9 video files)

The collection is arranged in nine series: Subject files; Consulting; Presentations, conferences, meetings and speeches; Writing and publishing material; Business correspondence; Travel; Personal papers; Clippings; and Printed speeches and articles. The John Diebold papers consists of mostly professional papers and some personal material. The collection dates from 1906 to 2003 with the bulk of the material between 1985 and 2001. As founder, owner, president, and chairman of the board of his own companies as well as an active member of numerous non-profit organizations, Diebold's professional life was often indivisible from his personal. Most of the consulting business of Diebold Group was sold in 1991 and many of the consulting records document the Diebold Group's transfer and consolidation of business. After 1991, John Diebold directed most of his energies toward DIPPS and other non-profit groups as well as overseeing Diebold Group's remaining business. His papers include business and private correspondence, consulting dossiers, club membership literature, copies of presentation slides, drafts and final copies of speeches, book research and publishing information, meeting minutes, business planning memoranda, project outlines, company publications, promotional mailers, business proposals, earnings reports, non-profit organization agendas and committee meeting minutes, case studies, fellowship vetting files, investment banking reports, and newspaper and journal clippings. Much of the John Diebold papers is annotated by Diebold himself, and decades of his careful attention to daily technology and business news is reflected in handwritten notes throughout the collection.

Biographical Note:

John Diebold was born in Weekawken, New Jersey in 1926. Leaving Swarthmore College during his freshman year, he served as a Merchant Marine midshipman from 1944 to 1945. While in the Merchant Marine, Diebold observed that his ship's anti-aircraft fire control mechanisms employed crude self-correcting devices. This experience sparked Diebold's interest in automation. He graduated from the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York in 1946 with a B.S. in. Marine Engineering. He returned to Swarthmore, graduating in 1949 with a B.A. in Economics. Diebold matriculated at Harvard Business School in September of 1949 and became a member of the Marketing Club and the Century Club. He also served as editor of the 1951 yearbook, Annual Review. As a student, Diebold wrote a thesis on productivity analysis, "The Significance of Productivity Data," that was later published in the 1952 summer issue of the Harvard Business Review. At HBS he developed an avid interest in automated factories and was greatly inspired by HBS professor Georges Doriot's manufacturing course. Leading an eight man research team at HBS, Diebold produced a report entitled "Making the Automatic Factory a Reality," which presented designs for a fully automatic factory to produce automotive pistons. Doriot and professor Charles Bliss were among those at HBS who shared Diebold's belief that computers would revolutionize business. At their suggestion, Diebold traveled to the Advanced Research Institute at Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to consult with legendary mathematician John Von Neumann and cybernetics pioneer Norbert Weiner. Diebold also encountered Albert Einstein while visiting Princeton. Informed by their advice and by his own exhaustive research, Diebold published his ground breaking book Automation: The Advent of the Automated Factory in 1952, a year after graduating with distinction from HBS. In the book, Diebold explored the possibilities and problems of integrating computers into all aspects of business. Automation is still widely published and is revered as a management classic. It appeared on the scene when computers were still in their infancy; IBM began leasing its first computer a year later.

In 1954, Diebold started his own consulting company, John Diebold and Associates, determined to focus on the management and business decisions relating to the development and use of technology. Much of John Diebold and Associates' early activity concentrated on helping clients select computer programming firms, which numbered very few at the time, to design applications for their businesses. The 1950s marked a transition for businesses as the concept of automation gradually took hold. Diebold's pivotal role in this period is signified by his appearance as the first witness at the U.S. Congress' first Joint Economic Committee Hearings on Automation and Technological Change in 1955. In the same year, he publicly debated Walter Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers, about the employment consequences of automation.

John Diebold and Associates built a reputation based on its expertise in the newly developing field of computerized data processing in business systems, Diebold's company soon morphed into the international firm Diebold Group Inc. by offering consulting services to companies including IBM, AT&T, Xerox, Eastman Kodak, Lockheed, as well as for cities such as New York and Chicago. In 1961, Diebold's firm aided the installment of the world's first electronic banking network, connecting the branches of New York City's Bowery Savings Bank. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy appointed Diebold as one of the leaders of the U.S. delegation to the first U.N. Conference on Science and Technology for Developing Countries. Diebold appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1965, for a story about America's successful young men.

Capitalizing on his company's success, Diebold started the investment and venture capital firm John Diebold Inc. in 1967. Concurrently, to promote his ever-expanding vision for computerized automation in all aspects of society, Diebold founded the Diebold Institute for Public Policy Studies (DIPPS). He founded Diebold Computer Leasing, Inc. in 1968. Diebold was develop and champion automated information systems for various industries through his work with the Diebold Group and his association with numerous non profit organizations. He was a member and served as chairman of the Carnegie Institute of Washington, the Committee for Economic Development, the Council on Foreign Relations and others organizations. The industries that the Diebold group focused on included health care, banking, bio-technology, air-traffic control, and intelligent vehicles and highways, among others. Diebold sold the consulting arm of Diebold Group to Daimler Benz in 1991. He continued actively participating in DIPPS and other organizations until his death at seventy-nine in 2005.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:

  1. Series I. Subject files, 1976-2002
  2. Series II. Consulting records, 1964-2003
  3. ___Subseries A. Business planning and market research records, 1986-1991
  4. ___Subseries B. Nonprofit organizations records, 1988-2003
  5. ___Subseries C. Investment banking records, 1992-2000
  6. ___Subseries D. Diebold Institute printed publications, 1964-1992
  7. Series III. Presentations, conferences, meetings and speeches, 1979-2002
  8. Series IV. Writing and publishing material, 1971-2002
  9. Series V. Business correspondence, 1992-2003
  10. Series VI. Travel records, 1985-1998
  11. Series VII. Personal papers, 1906-2001
  12. Series VIII. Clippings, 1951-1999
  13. Series IX. Printed speeches and articles, 1950-1999
  14. Series X. Audiovisual materials, 1962-1998
  15. ___Subseries A. Audio recordings, 1962-1998
  16. ___Subseries B. Video recordings, 1964-1996

Physical Location



Gift of Vanessa Diebold, 2008

Related Material:

Diebold Group, Inc., reports, 1957-1990. University of Minnesota libraries. The Charles Babbage Institute.

John Diebold papers, 1960-1985. University of Wyoming. American Heritage Center.

Processing Information

Processed: December 2011

By: Jeremy Meserve and Benjamin Johnson

Audiovisual content on physical storage media has been reformatted when possible. Files were surveyed, screened for privacy and confidentiality concerns, and transferred to secure storage. Content open for research is described at the series and folder levels below.

Diebold, John, 1926-2005. John Diebold Papers, 1906-2003: A Finding Aid
Baker Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections and Archives, Harvard Business School Repository

Baker Library Special Collections and Archives holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.

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