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Hollerith machine

The first automatic data processing system. Developed by Herman Hollerith, a Census Bureau statistician, the machine was first used to count the U.S. census of 1890. It was so successful that Hollerith later formed the Tabulating Machine Company and sold his machines throughout the world for a variety of accounting functions. In 1911, his company merged with another company that was later renamed IBM. Following is the sequence of steps used to count the 1890 census. See punch card.




What a Concept!
This form (top) was filled out by census takers for 62 million Americans, and Electrical Engineer featured the process.






Hollerith's Card Punch
The operator read the census forms and punched holes into dollar-bill-sized cards to represent the data. (Image courtesy of IBM.)






The Punch Card Reader
Each card was placed in the reader, and the handle was pulled down. Spring-loaded pins passed through the holes and closed electrical circuits that incremented the counters. (Image courtesy of The Computer History Museum, www.computerhistory.org)






The Hollerith System
After pulling the handle, one of the lids on the sorting box (right) opened, and the operator dropped in the card. Saving the government $5 million, it took three years to count the census instead of a decade. (Image courtesy of The Computer History Museum, www.computerhistory.org)






High Tech in 1890
The text at the bottom of this August 1890 issue reads "THE NEW CENSUS OF THE UNITED STATES - THE ELECTRICAL ENUMERATING MECHANISM." (Image courtesy of Scientific American Magazine.)






punch card

(1) See loyalty punch card.

(2) An early storage medium made of thin cardboard stock that held data as patterns of punched holes. Also called "punched" cards, each of the 80 or 96 columns held one character. The holes were punched by a keypunch machine or card punch peripheral and were fed into the computer by a card reader.

From 1890 until the 1970s, punch cards were synonymous with data processing. The concepts were simple: the database was the file cabinet; a record was a card. Processing was performed on separate machines called "sorters," "collators," "reproducers," "calculators" and "accounting machines." Today, the punch card is all but obsolete except for voting systems in some states. The presidential election of 2000 brought punch cards into infamy and made the U.S. the brunt of jokes worldwide for using such antiquated and error-prone systems. The solution in many states was to migrate to electronic voting machines, which happened to be developed without audit trails so that ballots could never be recounted in close elections (see e-voting). So much for progress! See sorter, tabulator and Hollerith machine.




IBM Punch Card
Stemming from Hollerith's punch card tabulating system in 1890, punch cards "were" data processing for more than 70 years. IBM and Sperry Rand were the two major providers of punch card equipment. This 80-column IBM card shows a typical customer master record.






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