Herman Hollerith (1860-1929),
Columbia University School of Mines EM 1879,
Columbia University PhD 1890.
Herman Hollerith 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. Hollerith's designs dominated the computing landscape
for almost 100 years.
After receiving his Engineer of Mines (EM) degree at age 19, Hollerith
worked on the 1880 US census, a laborious and error-prone operation that
cried out for mechanization. After some initial trials with
paper tape, he settled on punched cards
(pioneered in the Jacquard loom) to record
information, and designed special equipment -- a
tabulator and sorter
-- to tally the results. His designs won the competition for the 1890 US
census, chosen for their ability to count combined facts. These machines
reduced a ten-year job to three months (some sources give different
numbers, ranging from six weeks to three years), saved the 1890
taxpayers five million dollars, and earned him an 1890 Columbia PhD¹.
This was the first wholly successful information processing system to
replace pen and paper. Hollerith's machines were also used for censuses in
Russia, Austria, Canada, France, Norway, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the
Philippines, and again in the US census of 1900. In 1911 Hollerith's
company merged with
others to form the Computing-Tabulating-Recording
Company (CTR), which changed its name to International Business Machines
Corporation (IBM) in 1924.
Young Herman Hollerith
Between the 1880 and 1890 censuses, Hollerith spent a year (1882) on the
Mechanical Engineering faculty at MIT, and then in the mid-1880s worked on
railroad braking systems, obtaining several patents for both electromagnetic
pneumatic brakes and vacuum operated brakes, as well as for corrugated metal
Hollerith's ideas for automation of the census are expressed succinctly in
Patent No. 395,782 of Jan. 8, 1889: "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
Hollerith's contributions to modern computing are...
"incalculable" :-) He
did not stop at his original 1890 tabulating machine and sorter, but
produced many other innovative new models. He also invented the first
automatic card-feed mechanism, the
first key punch, and took what was
perhaps the first step towards programming by introducing a
wiring panel in his 1906
Type I Tabulator,
allowing it to do different jobs without having to be rebuilt! (The 1890
Tabulator was hardwired to operate only on 1890 Census cards.) These
inventions were the foundation of the modern information processing
- Medaille d'Or, Exposition Universelle de 1889.
- Elliott Cresson Medal of the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia,
5 Feb 1890.
- Bronze Medal, World's Columbian Exposition, 1892.
- National Inventors Hall of Fame, 1990.
- Hollerith, Herman,
"An Electric Tabulating System",
The Quarterly, Columbia University School of Mines,
Vol.X No.16 (Apr 1889), pp.238-255.
- Hollerith, Herman, In connection with the electric tabulation
system which has been adopted by U.S. government for the work of the census
bureau. Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University School of Mines (1890).
- Hollerith, Herman, "The Electric Tabulating Machine",
Journal of the Royal Statistical Association,
Vol.57 Part 4 (Dec 1894), pp.678-682.
- "The Hollerith Method of Statistical Tabulation", Frank Leslie's
Illustrated Newspaper, October 12, 1889, p.182.
- Scientific American, Vol.63, No.9, August 30, 1890.
- United States Census Office, Eleventh Census of the United
States (1890), 25 volumes.
- Martin, T.C., "Counting a Nation by Electricity", The
Electrical Engineer, New York, November 11, 1891.
- "Hollerith's Electric Tabulating Machine",
Railroad Gazette, 19 April 1895.
- Braitmeyer, Otto W., letter to (Columbia Professor)
30 May 1930 (a 3-page Hollerith biography).
- Austrian, Geoffrey,
Herman Hollerith: Forgotten Giant of Information Processing,
Columbia University Press (1982).
- Bashe, Charles J.; Lyle R. Johnson; John H. Palmer; Emerson
W. Pugh, IBM's
Early Computers, MIT Press (1985). 
- Letter of Richard Hollerith to Robert J. Hackett, Editor, Columbia
University Record, 15 March 1990.
- Pugh, Emerson W., Building IBM: Shaping an Industry and its
Technology, The MIT Press
- Eames, Charles and Ray, A Computer Perspective:
Background to the Computer Age, Harvard University Press.
First Edition 1973; Second Edition
- Truesdell, Leon E., "The Development of Punched Card Tabulation in the
Bureau of the Census 1890-1940", US Government Printing Office (1965).
Translations of this
page courtesy of...
Most recent update:
19 February 2019