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This Month in Business History

The Year 2000 : Y2K

Donna Scanlon
Business Reference Section
March 2009

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Internet Resources     LC Catalog Searches


As the world approached the year 2000, there were concerns over how our computers, computer programs/software, integrated systems, etc. would react to the date change from December 31, 1999, to January 1, 2000. As the millennium approached, many wondered if the world's businesses and financial systems would crash. Would airplanes still be able to fly or could there be nuclear accidents? Would these systems be fixed in time to avoid catastrophe?

How did this happen?

In the early days of computing the cost for memory was very expensive. The cost per megabyte of memory in 1970 was more than $3,000,000.1 In an effort to save money on memory, computer programs were written using a two digit year, assuming the "19" for the century. Storing a date in the format MMDDYY (6 bytes) rather than MMDDYYYY (8 bytes) produced a savings of 2 bytes per date stored. This may not sound like much, but consider the needs of a human resources department. The following dates are a short list (not inclusive by any means): hire date; termination date; date of last review; date of last increase; date of birth; rehire date. By only using a two digit year, there was a savings of 12 bytes of memory on these 6 dates alone.


Mexican broadside from 1890-1900 depicting fear of the end of world from natural disasters

Mexican broadside from an earlier era (ca.1890-1900) depicting fears of the end of the world from natural disaster.
Artist: José Guadalupe Posada;
Published by: Antonio Vanegas Arroyo. From the Caroline and Erwin Swann Collection of Caricature and Cartoon
Prints & Photographs Division
Library of Congress
Reproduction number: LC-DIG-ppmsc-04579

The thought that the programs from the 1960s and 1970s would exist into the year 2000 was not conceivable at the time. Surely the programs would be replaced long before the year 2000. The problem was then compounded further when newer programs were added that needed to access existing data, thus propagating the two digit year.2 Additionally, dates were not only stored in programs, they were also in printed reports and computer screens. Personal Computers (PCs) and microchips embedded in systems all had dates and many, if not all, of them needed to be fixed!

Was this really a problem?

Many were skeptical that a real issue existed. There were early indications, well before January 1, 2000, that there would be problems. Some store computers and ATMs would not accept credit/debit cards because the expiration date on them was 003 and retailer card machines refused to process credit and debit card transactions.4 While these were minor issues, it did highlight that there could be problems on a larger scale.

What was done?

There was a lot of time and money spent in efforts to replace old systems or to correct existing programs. Contingency plans were created and system back ups were planned, just in case. Governments and companies around the world worked to correct or replace their programs in an effort to prevent the projected "catastrophe." Consultants and COBOL programmers were in high demand. In the United States, Congressional committees were established to deal with the year 2000 technology problem and the Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act was passed on January 27, 1998 in an effort to promote free disclosure and exchange of information related to year 2000 readiness.5

Early estimates to fix all systems on a global scale ranged from $600 billion up to $1 trillion or more. Federal spending was estimated to reach $7.5 billion and corporate spending estimates came in at $121.96 billion.6 Final estimates globally did not appear to be as high as expected, a report estimated the final numbers at $320 billion worldwide and $134 billion in the U.S.7 True final figures may never be known.

End of the world?

Did the world as we know it come to an end? Obviously not, we're still here! While there were "glitches" reported, most seemed to be minor or have a manual work around. Japan had two incidents at nuclear power plants, Australia had issues with bus ticket validation machines, some slot machines in the US stopped working,8 and Microsoft's display glitch with Hotmail9 were among some of the problems reported.

If you have any further questions, please Ask A Librarian.

Internet Resources

The Free Library External Link

A keyword search for "Y2K" returns over 4000 articles on this topic.

The George Washington University Y2K Site External Link

Areas of this site with links still in working order are:

Internet Archive Wayback Machine External Link

The following "Y2K" sites are available within the Internet Archive:
  • Ed Yourdon's Web Site (Software consultant and author) External Link
    Y2K information is available up through November, 2000, under the Y2K Fans link.
  • President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion External Link
    Y2K information available from December, 1998 through September 2004.

Print Resources


Bourne, K. C. Year 2000 solutions for dummies, Foster City, CA : IDG Books Worldwide, (2nd ed.) c1998.
LC Call Number: QA76.76.S64 B68 1998
Catalog Record: 98088388

Braithwaite, Timothy. Evaluating the year 2000 project : a management guide for determining reasonable care. New York : J. Wiley, c1998.
LC Call Number: QA76.76.S64 B73 1998
Catalog Record: 97039021

Braithwaite, Timothy. Y2K lessons learned : a guide to better information technology management. New York : Wiley, c2000.
LC Call Number: QA76.76.S64 B74 2000
Catalog Record: 00025725

Reid, Edna O. Why 2K? : a chronological study of the (Y2K) millennium bug : why, when and how did Y2K become a critical issue for business? [Parkland, Fla.] : Universal Publishers/UPUBLISH.COM, 1999.
LC Call Number: QA76.76.S64 R433 1999
Catalog Record: 2001277265

Wilcox, Robert S. Year 2000 : separating the hype from the reality. [Parkland, Fla.] : La Can~ada, Calif. : DCW Industries, (1st ed.) c1999.
LC Call Number: KF26.53Y43 1999f Law Library
Catalog Record: 99090388

U.S. Congress. Senate. Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem. Will Y2K snarl global transportation? : hearing before the Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem ... on preparedness not only with respect to aviation, but also maritime, 106th Cong. 1st sess. September 30, 1999. Published/Created: Washington : U.S. G.P.O.
Available online through GPO Access
LC Call Number: HG8540.I62 J3
Catalog Record: 00326402

Article/News Databases

A search for articles in the following business databases using "Y2K" related terms will produce results. Some search suggestions:

  • Y2K
  • Year 2000 transition
  • Y2K computer bug
  • Millennium bug

Some recommended databases are listed below. Please note that these are subscription products. To access these databases, users must be onsite at the Library of Congress or obtain access through another subscribing institution. To locate a library in your area which may subscribe to some or all of these products, try searching portals such as External Link, Search for Public Libraries, or Find a Federal Depository Library

  • Business & Company Resource Center
  • Factiva
  • General OneFile
  • ProQuest Databases

Library of Congress Catalog Searches

Additional works on this topic in the Library of Congress may be identified by searching the Online Catalog under appropriate Library of Congress subject headings. Choose the topics you wish to search from the following list of Library of Congress subject headings to link directly to the Catalog and automatically execute a search for the subject selected. Please be aware that during periods of heavy use you may encounter delays in accessing the catalog. The primary subject heading for this topic is:

Year 2000 date conversion (Computer systems)

There are many other related subject headings that provide resources covering geographic locations, legal aspects, and more. A few examples are listed below. For assistance in locating other subject headings that may relate to this subject, please consult a reference librarian.

Year 2000 date conversion (Computer systems)--United States

Year 2000 date conversion (Computer systems)--Law and Legislation

Year 2000 date conversion (Computer systems)--Fiction

 1. Bourne, Kelly C. Year 2000 Solutions for Dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide, c1977. p 13.

 2. Bourne, p 15.

 3. Bourne, p 23.

 4. "Millennium bug hits retailers" BBC News, December 29, 1999. External Link

 5. Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act, Public Law 105-271, U.S. Statutes at Large,
112 (1998): 2386-2395. Available online from GPO Access [PDF format: 231.4KB / 11p.]

 6. Farwell, Jennifer. "The Big Picture: The True Cost of Y2K." Smart Computing August 1999, Volume 7 Issue 8.

 7. "Global survey cites good and bad Y2K news," by Network World Staff. CNN.Com. December 29, 1999. External Link

 8. "Minor bug problems arise." BBC News, January 1, 2000. External Link

 9. "Two glitches hit Microsoft Internet services as New Year rolls over," by Renée Gotcher., January 3, 2000. External Link

Last updated: 09/28/2018

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