Who Was Herman Hollerith?

The Man Who Revolutionized Data Processing

Picture via sutori.com

The Problem

Hollerith — The Early Years

The Automated Looms of Nimes

By 1805, Joseph-Marie Jacquard had invented a way to program the loom so it would know what colors to put where and how the weave should proceed. That way involved the use of punched cards — about 2,000 of them for a typical weave. The holes in the punched cards would allow rods to poke through. The rods would lift the yarn at the proper time to create the pattern designers had created. The result was an automatic weaving machine controlled by coded punch cards,

Hollerith and His Punched Card Tabulating Machines

His system recorded data by punching holes in cards. The holes were sensed, processed and tabulated electro-mechanically. Hollerith invented the machines to punch and process the cards. He tested the entire process in 1887, the same year the 1880 census was finally tabulated. The test was a huge success and won him a contract from the Census Office when it started the 1890 census. The 1890 census was completed in six years even though the population had increased and much more information was acquired and processed than in the 1880 census.

(At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair census clerks worked with the machines and tabulated data from the 1890 census. Crowds were amazed at the speed with which the process proceeded, and Hollerith was awarded a medal for his invention.)

Electronic Data Processing Takes Off

Hollerith formed the Tabulating Machine Company in 1896, and, since he had a (temporary) monopoly, greatly raised his prices. Census Bureau (the Census Office was now the Census Bureau) employees were able to create their own tabulating machines, without violating Hollerith’s patents, which were more advanced than Hollerith’s, in time for the 1910 census

Hollerith’s company, which had changed its name to the Computer Tabulating Recording Company after a merger, was almost run out of the market. But in 1914, Thomas J. Watson, Sr., a super salesman, joined the company as an executive and became president. Although he and Hollerith did not get along, he revolutionized the way the company was run and pulled it back up to a major player in the data processing field.

Watson merged a number of companies and in 1924 Watson renamed the enterprise The International Business Machines Corporation, or IBM.


Been writing articles here and there for 15 years. I like to write about a variety of topics.

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