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(BIO)- Herman Hollerith

Herman Hollerith was an American inventor who created a machine to read batches of cards with holes in them, or punch cards. Hollerith was born on February 29, 1860 in Buffalo, New York. He graduated from Columbia University at 19, then taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also became a statistician working at the U.S. Census Bureau. This is where he made the invention he is most famous for. Hollerith devised a way to use cards with punched holes in them to store data, and a machine to punch and tabulate the cards. The idea for his tabulator came to him while he watched a train conductor punch tickets. This device was very efficient, especially for a statistics bureau. Punch cards were a sufficient way to hold data (in those times), they could transport information, and they had unlimited capacity, for you could always make new cards.

The U.S. used Hollerith’s invention in the 1880 census. The punch card device, opposed to hand-tallying, cut census time by two years, and saved the Bureau $5 million dollars. Before, censuses were estimated to take a decade. Hollerith’s system was also used for the 1911 UK census.

The first machine was hand-fed and used two rods that made contact when there was a hole, closing the circuit. The cards were basically a binary system, the current was either ON or OFF. His later machines could mechanically feed the cards, add numbers, and sort the cards. Today one still use batch files, which are from the times when people put a batch of cards through for a program.

In 1896 Hollerith formed a company, the Tabulating Machine Company. This company went through several takeovers, but basically it was the beginning of the International Business Company, known to many as IBM.

Hollerith died of a heart attack on November 17, 1929 in Washington, D.C.

Bibliography Herman Hollerith

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