Herman Hollerith (1860-1929)
In the 21st century processing Big Data and analytics are now part of our lives, but how would you compute even one set of data if your calculator could only add up one string of values at a time? Herman Hollerith, ingenious inventor, started the tabulator industry. He invented an electrical system that could process thousands of transactions in a single run. His system of blanks and holes was basically a binary system. The concept of automated data processing had been born.
In 1880 Hollerith worked for the US Census Office, where they recorded the results by hand. He realised there had to be a quicker way and had a lightbulb moment to store information with holes punched in paper as bus conductors did. His then girlfriend’s dad, suggested a card device to automate the count, like those used for Jacquard looms.
Hollerith got cracking designing a machine that used the completion of an electrical circuit though holes on cards to advance a counter on a dial and tally overall numbers, individual characteristics and even cross-tabulations. He tested his machine in 1887 when the hand-counted 1880 census was finally completed, winning a contract from the Census Office for the 1890 census, which is reputed to have saved the American Government $5 million.
The Hollerith Electric Tabulator - never needed a reboot
His firm merged with others to form the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation, renamed International Business Machines in 1924, IBM. It spawned a larger class of devices known as unit record equipment and the whole data processing industry. The term "Super Computing" was first used by the New York World newspaper in 1929 to refer to huge custom-built tabulators IBM made for Columbia University.
After the mechanical computing era waned in the 1960s, punched cards were used for input, but were replaced by magnetic tape, then disks for data storage and manipulation. Punched cards are now almost obsolete but were used in the American elections as recently as 2014.
Herman Hollerith’s designs influenced the computing field for nearly an entire century. He is remembered as one of the founding fathers of modern programming, the father of information processing, and the world’s first statistical engineer.
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united states census bureau www.earlyofficemuseum.com