A History of Iron Mountain, an Information Storage Facility in Germantown, NY
Data depository: Today, the Iron Mountain information-storage company has more than 140,000 corporate clients around the globe. But the firm got its start 60 years ago in an underground bunker in Germantown
For the past 60 years, a (former) underground mushroom farm in Germantown has been safeguarding the business records of dozens of U.S. companies
Photographs courtesy of Iron Mountain
These days, Iron Mountain, an information management services company based in Boston, has three main functions: record management, data protection, and information destruction (that’s shredding to you and me). But it was a different world when the company was first launched in 1951. At that time, the threat of nuclear war permeated all aspects of everyday life. Savvy mushroom farmer Herman Knaust saw a business opportunity, and turned his underground farm in Germantown into a bunker to store business records. “When it first opened it was mainly oil companies and banks,” says Randy Crego, general manager of Iron Mountain’s New York metro market. “It was outside the blast zone of New York City. The game plan was that, when the ICBMs were headed toward New York, the top executives would be flown up to Germantown where they could hole up underground and ride out the storm.” In fact, through the early 1970s, companies like Exxon and Shell would send their executives there on an annual basis to stay in underground apartments. “Exxon was the largest; they had 65 private rooms,” says Crego.
In the early days, record management simply meant keeping information safe to ensure that you could restart a business following a disaster. Nowadays, however, technological advances and legal regulations have created a whole new world of concerns, not to mention an avalanche of data. “Companies have more information than they know what to do with,” says Iron Mountain CEO and Chairman Richard Reese. “They also have to account for various media — paper documents, electronic files, instant messages, company blogs, tweets, and more.” One of Iron Mountain’s more recent services is DMS — document management solutions, which involves imaging hard copy records to put them in a digital format. And the company continues to grow: There are more than 1,000 Iron Mountain facilities worldwide, with upwards of 42 in the New York area alone.
Today, the Germantown facility (one of only two underground; the second one is in Rosendale), with seven levels and 225 private vaults, is used for one purpose — to store vital records. “Think of it as an oversized safety deposit box,” says Crego, noting that two operations employees, a receptionist, five security guards, and one maintenance worker comprise the Germantown staff. And while you might surmise that paper records have gone the way of the dinosaur in this high-tech era, think again. “It’s the big urban legend that paper has gone away,” says Crego. “Iron Mountain currently stores 430 million cubic feet of hard-copy records. Paper is still the preferred form of information storage. It is economical, it’s convenient, and in some businesses it is still the legal forum to store your information.