by CIO Staff

The Month of November in IT History: Punch Card Creator Dies

Nov 01, 20032 mins

Punch Card Creator

Nov. 17, 1929 Dr. Herman Hollerith, the creator of the electric tabulating machine and founder of a company that would later become IBM, dies of a heart attack at the age of 69.

Hollerith’s invention was the first that used punched holes in tape?then cards?to sort and re-sort data. The government used Hollerith’s invention to tabulate the 1890 census. The project took three years, instead of the seven years it took in the 1880 count. Punch-card technology ended up as a staple of information processing systems through the late 1970s.

Hollerith was a science star who also displayed great business acumen. Born in Buffalo, N.Y., he went to City College of New York at age 15 and graduated from the Columbia School of Mines at 19. His work for the U.S. Census after college introduced him to the tabulating challenge. In 1882, as a mechanical engineering instructor at MIT, he started to develop his own counting machine using punched paper tape. The position of a punched hole on the tape represented a data point; a tape-reading machine gave the results. His first patent came in 1884. The success of the 1890 census would eventually lead to his recording tabulating machine sales in Europe and Canada. In 1897, Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Co., which after some mergers became International Business Machines Corp. Or, IBM to you and me.