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Hollerith Manual Card Punch

Hermann Hollerith, in an effort to win the United States Census Bureau competition, began experimenting with mechanical tabulation methods, and in 1884 he patented the first "Census Machine."

Hollerith won the competition. The machine was used to tabulate the 1890 United States Census in record time.

Hollerith formed a company to produce a series of improved machines incorporating the tabulator and punched cards. He built an international clientele which included railway offices, the Czarist government of Russia and other foreign governments, department stores, insurance offices, and United States government bureaus.

The Hollerith tabulating system was the first to make practical use of the punched card in data processing. His machines became the nucleus of today's computing industry.

Hollerith developed the tabulator in response to the need to expedite and simplify the tabulating of statistical information gathered in the 1890 United States Census. Statistical data on sex, age, location, family size, birth date and nationality were punched in predetermined locations on the card.

The cards were automatically tabulated and semi-automatically sorted. Electric wires in the card reader made contact with mercury in a cup through holes in the cards to complete an electric circuit and "read" the data. The electric signal from the contact activated the relevant counter on the panel and caused the hand to register the count. Each cabinet tabulated one type of data. The count appeared first on dials representing each state and then in an overall national total.

After its initial use in the 1890 census, the Hollerith system was adapted by commerce and industry for accounting, cost distribution, inventory control, time and payroll records.

Hollerith developed and patented many related devices and in 1896 established the Tabulating Machine Company to manufacture his inventions. The company grew and prospered. In 1911, it merged with others to form the Computing, Tabulating and Recording Company. In 1915, Thomas J. Watson, Sr. was made president and in 1924, the company became International Business Machines Corporation.

IBM made the punch-card technology into the business standard of the 1950's and 1960's.

Donor: Barrie Adsett, Barrie Adsett Computer Services


2006 San Diego Computer Museum
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