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Herman Hollerith Biography

Inventor of Tabulator

Posted on March 4, 2010 by , with 13425 views

Herman Hollerith

Herman Hollerith was a German-American statistician who lived from February 29, 1860 until November 17, 1929. The founder of IBM, Hollerith developed a mechanical tabulator which worked using punched cards, allowing a quick tabulation of statistics from millions of amounts of data.

Hollerith spent his childhood in his birth town, Buffalo, New York. In 1875 he enlisted at the City College of New York and soon after graduated with an Engineer of Mines degree in 1879 courtesy of the Columbia University School of Mines. Hollerith spent the majority of his life in Buffalo, despite his spells in New York City.

Hollerith soon developed a device for recording information using a series of electrical connections. Hollerith developed this idea based on the principle that data could be stored numerically and that a punch card could be sorted and recorded based on the hole locations. Hollerith submitted An Electrical Tabulating System in 1889 as his thesis for Columbia University and was subsequently issued U.S. Patent #395,782. Claim 2 of this invention patent reads;

The herein-described method of compiling statistics, which consists in recording separate statistical items pertaining to the individual by holes or combinations of holes 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.

This patent was granted on January 8th, 1989, whilst Hollerith was working for the United States Census Office.

The Census Office contracted Hollerith to build and develop machines with the ability to tabulate data. The 1890 census used such a machine, and the complete data sets were completed within one single year, compared to the 1880 census which has taken eight years. In 1896, Hollerith founded his first business, Tabulating Machine Company. Census offices around the world, as well as insurance companies, leased and purchased his equipment to perform their own collation of data.

Hollerith invented the first automatic card feed mechanism and also the first key punch. Operators of his inventions could punch between 200 and 300 cards per hour. Hollerith also invented a tabulator, the 1890 Tabulator being dedicated to the 1890 census cards. In 1906, he introduced a control panel to his Type I Tabulator allowing different jobs to be performed without having to rebuild completely. This group of inventions paved the way for which modern information is processed.

Four corporations merged in 1911, including Hollerith's own business, to form the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation (CTR). 13 years later this company was renamed as International Business Machines Corporation (IBM).

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