Columbia University Computing History   

IBM Collators

A collator is the opposite of a sorter. Where a sorter separates a deck of cards into lots of little piles, a collater shuffles separate decks together into one deck (or two, or three, or four). IBM first developed this device for the Social US Social Security Administration. H.J. McDonald, who sold the account and (along with John Bryce) designed the machine, recalls that IBM President Watson ordered the development of the collator because "the Social Security agency punched cards from records sent in by employers all over the country. There were millions and millions of them, and if we hadn't had some way of putting them together we would have been lost; we just couldn't have done it." The "world's biggest bookkeeping job"¹ was done in a Baltimore brick loft building, chosen because it had 120,000 square feet of floor space and was structurally strong enough to bear the weight of 415 punching and accounting machines. A production line was set up to punch, sort, check, and file half a million cards a day. The collator became a widely used device in government and business generally, and established the ability of the government to implement national programs in individual terms; e.g., the introduction of the withholding tax in 1943. [103].

IBM Type 077 Collator
Photo: IBM Type 77 Manual (see below)
The IBM Type 77 (or 077) Collator (left), introduced in 1937 for the Social Security contract, reads two decks of cards from its two input hoppers and sends the cards to any of five output bins based on comparison of the two input cards and the plugboard program. Each card feed reads 240 cards per minute, thus the total speed is 480 cards per minute for two feeds. The Type 77 rented for $80 per month in 1955.

A collator can be used to file new records (cards) into an existing card-based dataset (merging). Or to check sequence, remove duplicates, search for and extract desired records -- a kind of mechanical database query and update engine. It can even compare two decks so you can find out how they differ. As with all IBM card equipment (except key punches and sorters) the functions and details are specified by control-panel wiring.

IBM Type 085 Collator
IBM Type 85 Collator
The Type 85 (or 085) collator from 1958 handled numeric decks and the Type 87 (087) from the same year handled alphanumeric; their two input hoppers hold 800 cards, and each of four output pocket holds 1000. These models operate at up to 480 cards per minute. The Type 88 (or 088) Collator, pictured at left, was introduced about 1959 and processed up to 1300 cards per minute (numeric only). There was also an IBM 89 Alphabetic Collator, apparently predating many of the other 80-series (because it looks like the 77). These are the output pockets of the 85/87 Collator: 4. Selected Secondaries; 3. Selected Secondaries; 2. Merged Cards; 1. Selected Primaries.

IBM Type 188 Collator
Photo: IBM Type 188 Collator
IBM Type 188 Collator
Photo: IBM Type 188 Collator feed
The IBM 188 collator from 1961 feeds cards from two feeds at 650cpm each, 1300 total. The primary feed has a capacity of 3600 cards; the secondary 1200. The second image shows the primary feed of the 188 Collator, loaded with approximately 2000 cards.

  1. IBM Type 77 Collator - Manual of Operation, Form 22-3185-2 (May 1955).
  2. IBM 85 and 87 Collators - Reference Manual, Form A24-1003-2 (May 1960, Copyright 1958, 1960).
  3. IBM 188 Collator - Reference Manual, Form A24-1072-1 (1961).

Also See:
Tabulators, Sorters, Key Punches, Reproducers, Interpreters, Calculators.
Offsite Links (good as of 5 April 2021):
Columbia University Computing History Frank da Cruz / This page created: January 2001 Last update: 5 April 2021