Herman Hollerith patents punch card technology

8th January 1889
Herman Hollerith patents punch card technology

Herman Hollerith (1860-1929) is widely regarded as the father of modern automatic computation. He chose the punched card as the basis for storing and processing information and he built the first punched-card tabulating and sorting machines as well as the first key punch, and he founded the company that was to become IBM.

In 1881, Hollerith started work on a machine to help collect and analyse census data more efficiently. The 1880 census had taken eight years to complete by hand, and increasing populations meant that the next census would take even longer. Hollerith invented a punch card device to both store and analyze the data. While previous devices such as Jacquard's loom and Babbage's Analytical Engine also used punch cards to control them, Hollerith's innovation was to use electricity to detect the holes in the punch cards, and read the data represented by those holes.

On January 8th 1889, Hollerith was granted patent number 395,782, which describes his ideas for automating the census as follows:

"The herein described method of compiling statistics which consists in recording separate statistical items pertaining to the individual by holes or combinations of holed punched in sheets of electrically non-conducting material, and bearing a specific relation to each other and to a standard, and then counting or tallying such statistical items separately or in combination by means of mechanical counters operated by electro-magnets the circuits through which are controlled by the perforated sheets, substantially as and for the purpose set forth."

Related information:


  • Front page of Hollerith's patent number US395782A
    Credit: Public domain

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