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A punched card (also punch cardSteven Pinker, in ''The Stuff of Thought'', Viking, 2007, p.362, notes the loss of ''-ed'' in pronunciation ''as it did in ice cream, mincemeat, and box set, formerly iced cream, minced meat, and boxed set.'' or punched-card) is a piece of stiff paper that holds
digital data Digital data, in information theory and information systems, is information represented as a string of discrete symbols each of which can take on one of only a finite number of values from some alphabet, such as letters or digit (unit), digits. A ...
represented by the presence or absence of holes in predefined positions. Punched cards were once common in
data processing Data processing is, generally, "the collection Collection or Collections may refer to: * Cash collection, the function of an accounts receivable department * Collection agency, agency to collect cash * Collections management (museum) ** Collec ...

data processing
applications or to directly control
automated machine automaton. An automaton (; plural: automata or automatons) is a relatively self-operating machine A machine is a man-made device that uses power to apply forces and control movement to perform an action. Machines can be driven by anim ...
ry. Punched cards were widely used through much of the 20th century in the data processing industry, where specialized and increasingly complex unit record machines, organized into semiautomatic
data processing system A data processing system is a combination of machine A machine is a man-made device that uses power to apply forces and control movement to perform an action. Machines can be driven by animals and people A people is a plurality of p ...
s, used punched cards for data input, output, and storage. The IBM 12-row/80-column punched card format came to dominate the industry. Many early
digital computer A computer is a machine A machine is a man-made device that uses power to apply forces and control movement to perform an action. Machines can be driven by animals and people A people is a plurality of person A person (plural ...
s used punched cards as the primary medium for input of both
computer program In imperative programming, a computer program is a sequence of instructions in a programming language that a computer can execute or interpret. In declarative programming, a ''computer program'' is a Set (mathematics), set of instructions. A comp ...
s and
data Data (; ) are individual facts A fact is something that is truth, true. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability—that is whether it can be demonstrated to correspond to experience. Standard reference works are often used ...
. While punched cards are now obsolete as a
storage medium Data Data (; ) are individual facts, statistics, or items of information, often numeric. In a more technical sense, data are a set of values of qualitative property, qualitative or quantity, quantitative variable (research), variables ...
, as of 2012, some
voting machine A voting machine is a machine used to record votes without paper. The first voting machines were mechanical but it is increasingly more common to use machines. Traditionally, a voting machine has been defined by its mechanism, and whether the ...

voting machine
s still used punched cards to record votes. They also had a significant cultural impact.


History

The idea of control and data storage via punched holes was developed over a long period of time. In most cases there is no evidence that each of the inventors was aware of the earlier work.


Precursors

Basile Bouchon Basile Bouchon was a textile A textile is a flexible material made by creating an interlocking network of yarns or thread (yarn), threads, which are produced by spinning (textiles), spinning raw fibres (from either natural or synthetic sour ...
developed the control of a
loom A loom is a device used to weaving, weave cloth and tapestry. The basic purpose of any loom is to hold the Warp (weaving), warp threads under tension (mechanics), tension to facilitate the interweaving of the weft threads. The precise shape o ...

loom
by punched holes in paper tape in 1725. The design was improved by his assistant Jean-Baptiste Falcon and by
Jacques Vaucanson Portrait of Jacques de Vaucanson Jacques de Vaucanson (February 24, 1709 – November 21, 1782) was a French inventor and artist who was responsible for the creation of impressive and innovative automata. He also was the first person to design a ...
. Although these improvements controlled the patterns woven, they still required an assistant to operate the mechanism. In 1804
Joseph Marie Jacquard Joseph Marie Charles ''dit'' (called or nicknamed) Jacquard (; 7 July 1752 – 7 August 1834) was a French weaver and merchant. He played an important role in the development of the earliest programmable loom (the " Jacquard loom"), which in turn ...

Joseph Marie Jacquard
demonstrated a mechanism to automate loom operation. A number of punched cards were linked into a chain of any length. Each card held the instructions for
shedding Shedding may refer to: * Shedding or moulting of body parts * Desquamation, pathologic or non-pathologic skin shedding * Peeling of the skin * Shedding game, a family of card games where the objective is to get rid of one's hand first * Natural hai ...
(raising and lowering the warp) and selecting the shuttle for a single pass.
Semyon Korsakov Semyon Nikolaevich Korsakov (russian: Семён Николаевич Корсаков, ) (January 14, 1787 – December 1, 1853 OS) was a Russia Russia (russian: link=no, Россия, , ), or the Russian Federation, is a country spann ...
was reputedly the first to propose punched cards in informatics for information store and search. Korsakov announced his new method and machines in September 1832.
Charles Babbage Charles Babbage (; 26 December 1791 – 18 October 1871) was an English polymath A polymath ( el, πολυμαθής, , "having learned much"; la, homo universalis, "universal human") is an individual whose knowledge spans a subs ...

Charles Babbage
proposed the use of "Number Cards", "pierced with certain holes and stand
ng
ng
opposite levers connected with a set of figure wheels ... advanced they push in those levers opposite to which there are no holes on the cards and thus transfer that number together with its sign" in his description of the Calculating Engine's Store. There is no evidence that he built a practical example. In 1881
Jules Carpentier Jules Carpentier (30 August 1851 – 30 June 1921) was a French engineer and inventor. Jules Carpentier was a student at the French École polytechnique upA statue in the courtyard of the school commemorates the cadets of ''Polytechniqu ...

Jules Carpentier
developed a method of recording and playing back performances on a
harmonium The pump organ is a type of free-reed organ Organ may refer to: Biology * Organ (anatomy) An organ is a group of Tissue (biology), tissues with similar functions. Plant life and animal life rely on many organs that co-exist in organ syst ...

harmonium
using punched cards. The system was called the ''Mélographe Répétiteur'' and “writes down ordinary music played on the keyboard dans la langage de Jacquard”, that is as holes punched in a series of cards. By 1887 Carpentier had separated the mechanism into the ''Melograph'' which recorded the player's key presses and the ''Melotrope'' which played the music.


The Hollerith card

At the end of the 1800s
Herman Hollerith Herman Hollerith (February 29, 1860 – November 17, 1929) was an American businessman, inventor, and statistician who developed an electromechanical tabulating machine The tabulating machine was an electromechanical In engineering ...
invented the recording of data on a medium that could then be read by a machine, developing punched card data processing technology for the 1890 U.S. census. His
tabulating machine The tabulating machine was an electromechanical In engineering Engineering is the use of scientific method, scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other items, including bridges, tunnels, roads, vehicles, ...
s read and summarized data stored on punched cards and they began use for government and commercial data processing. Initially, these
electromechanical In engineering Engineering is the use of scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other items, including bridges, tunnels, roads, vehicles, and buildings. The discipline of engineering encompasses a broad ran ...
machines only counted holes, but by the 1920s they had units for carrying out basic arithmetic operations. Hollerith founded the ''Tabulating Machine Company'' (1896) which was one of four companies that were amalgamated via stock acquisition to form a fifth company, Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR) (1911), later renamed International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) (1924). Other companies entering the punched card business included The Tabulator Limited (1902), Deutsche Hollerith-Maschinen Gesellschaft mbH (Dehomag) (1911),
Powers Accounting Machine Company The Powers Accounting Machine was an information processing device developed in the early 20th century for the U.S. Census Bureau. It was then produced and marketed by the Powers Accounting Machine Company, an information technology company founded ...
(1911),
Remington Rand Remington Rand was an early American business machine manufacturer, best known originally as a typewriter Video showing the operation of a typewriter A typewriter is a mechanical Mechanical may refer to: Machine * Mechanical system A ...
(1927), and H.W. Egli Bull (1931). These companies, and others, manufactured and marketed a variety of punched cards and unit record machines for creating, sorting, and tabulating punched cards, even after the development of electronic computers in the 1950s. Both IBM and Remington Rand tied punched card purchases to machine leases, a violation of the 1914
Clayton Antitrust Act The Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 (, codified at , ), was a part of United States antitrust law with the goal of adding further substance to the U.S. antitrust law regime; the Clayton Act sought to prevent anticompetitive practices in their incipi ...
. In 1932, the US government took both to court on this issue. Remington Rand settled quickly. IBM viewed its business as providing a service and that the cards were part of the machine. IBM fought all the way to the Supreme Court and lost in 1936; the court ruled that IBM could only set card specifications. "By 1937... IBM had 32 presses at work in Endicott, N.Y., printing, cutting and stacking five to 10 million punched cards every day." Punched cards were even used as legal documents, such as
U.S. Government The federal government of the United States (U.S. federal government or U.S. government) is the national government of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or U ...
checks and savings bonds. During
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literatur ...
punched card equipment was used by the Allies in some of their efforts to decrypt Axis communications. See, for example,
Central Bureau The Central Bureau was one of two Allied signals intelligence (SIGINT) organisations in the South West Pacific theatre of World War II, South West Pacific area (SWPA) during World War II. Central Bureau was attached to the headquarters of the South ...
in Australia. At
Bletchley Park Bletchley Park is an and estate in () that became the principal centre of . The mansion was constructed during the years following 1883 for the financier and politician Sir in the , Tudor, and styles, on the site of older buildings of the ...

Bletchley Park
in England, "some 2 million punched cards a week were being produced, indicating the sheer scale of this part of the operation". Punched card technology developed into a powerful tool for business data-processing. By 1950 punched cards had become ubiquitous in industry and government. "Do not fold, spindle or mutilate," a warning that appeared on some punched cards distributed as documents such as checks and utility bills to be returned for processing, became a motto for the post-
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literatur ...
era. In 1956 IBM signed a
consent decree A consent decree is an agreement or settlement that resolves a dispute between two parties without Admission (law), admission of guilt (in a criminal case) or liability (in a civil case), and most often refers to such a type of settlement in the ...
requiring, amongst other things, that IBM would by 1962 have no more than one-half of the punched card manufacturing capacity in the United States. Tom Watson Jr.'s decision to sign this decree, where IBM saw the punched card provisions as the most significant point, completed the transfer of power to him from Thomas Watson, Sr. The
UNITYPER The UNITYPER was an for the computer manufactured by , which went on sale in mid-1951 but was not in operation until June of 1952. It was an early . The UNITYPER accepted user inputs on a keyboard of a modified Remington , then wrote that data ont ...
introduced magnetic tape for data entry in the 1950s. During the 1960s, the punched card was gradually replaced as the primary means for
data storage Data Data (; ) are individual facts, statistics, or items of information, often numeric. In a more technical sense, data are a set of values of qualitative property, qualitative or quantity, quantitative variable (research), variables ...
by
magnetic tape Magnetic tape is a medium for , made of a thin, magnetizable coating on a long, narrow strip of . It was developed in Germany in 1928, based on . Devices that record and playback audio and video using magnetic tape are s and s respectively. A ...
, as better, more capable computers became available.
Mohawk Data Sciences Mohawk Data Sciences Corporation (MDS) was a 1964-launched company, started by former engineers; by 1985 they were struggling to sell-off part of their company. History The company was founded in Herkimer, NY by , Lauren King, and Ted Robinson, fo ...
introduced a magnetic tape encoder in 1965, a system marketed as a keypunch replacement which was somewhat successful. Punched cards were still commonly used for entering both data and computer programs until the mid-1980s when the combination of lower cost magnetic disk storage, and affordable interactive terminals on less expensive
minicomputer A minicomputer, or colloquially mini, is a class of smaller general purpose computers that developed in the mid-1960s and sold for much less than Mainframe computer, mainframe and mid-size computers from IBM and BUNCH, its direct competitors. In ...
s made punched cards obsolete for these roles as well. However, their influence lives on through many standard conventions and file formats. The terminals that replaced the punched cards, the
IBM 3270 The IBM 3270 is a family of block oriented display and printer computer terminal A computer terminal is an electronic or electromechanical hardware device that can be used for entering data into, and transcribing data from, a computer ...
for example, displayed 80 columns of text in
text mode Text mode is a mode in which content is internally represented on a computer screen in terms of s rather than individual s. Typically, the screen consists of a uniform of ''character cells'', each of which contains one of the characters of a ; ...
, for compatibility with existing software. Some programs still operate on the convention of 80 text columns, although fewer and fewer do as newer systems employ
graphical user interface The graphical user interface (GUI "UI" by itself is still usually pronounced . or ) is a form of user interface In the industrial design Industrial design is a process of design A design is a plan or specification for the construction ...
s with variable-width type fonts.


Nomenclature

The terms ''punched card'', ''punch card'', and ''punchcard'' were all commonly used, as were ''IBM card'' and ''Hollerith card'' (after
Herman Hollerith Herman Hollerith (February 29, 1860 – November 17, 1929) was an American businessman, inventor, and statistician who developed an electromechanical tabulating machine The tabulating machine was an electromechanical In engineering ...
). IBM used "IBM card" or, later, "punched card" at first mention in its documentation and thereafter simply "card" or "cards". Specific formats were often indicated by the number of character positions available, e.g. ''80-column card''. A sequence of cards that is input to or output from some step in an application's processing is called a ''card deck'' or simply ''deck''. The rectangular, round, or oval bits of paper punched out were called
chad Chad (; ar, تشاد , ; french: Tchad, ), officially known as the Republic of Chad ( ar, جمهورية تْشَاد, link=no '; ), is a landlocked A landlocked country is a country that does not have territory connected to an oce ...
(''chads'') or ''chips'' (in IBM usage). Sequential card columns allocated for a specific use, such as names, addresses, multi-digit numbers, etc., are known as a ''field''. The first card of a group of cards, containing fixed or indicative information for that group, is known as a ''master card''. Cards that are not master cards are ''detail cards''.


Formats

The Hollerith punched cards used for the 1890 U.S. census were blank. Following that, cards commonly had printing such that the row and column position of a hole could be easily seen. Printing could include having fields named and marked by vertical lines, logos, and more. "General purpose" layouts (see, for example, the IBM 5081 below) were also available. For applications requiring master cards to be separated from following detail cards, the respective cards had different upper corner diagonal cuts and thus could be separated by a sorter. Other cards typically had one upper corner diagonal cut so that cards not oriented correctly, or cards with different corner cuts, could be identified.


Hollerith's early cards

Herman Hollerith Herman Hollerith (February 29, 1860 – November 17, 1929) was an American businessman, inventor, and statistician who developed an electromechanical tabulating machine The tabulating machine was an electromechanical In engineering ...
was awarded three patents in 1889 for electromechanical
tabulating machine The tabulating machine was an electromechanical In engineering Engineering is the use of scientific method, scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other items, including bridges, tunnels, roads, vehicles, ...
s. These patents described both
paper tape Five- and eight-hole punched paper tape file:Harwell-dekatron-witch-10.jpg, Paper tape reader on the Harwell computer with a small piece of five-hole tape connected in a circle – creating a physical program loop Punched tape or perforated pape ...

paper tape
and rectangular cards as possible recording media. The card shown in of January 8 was printed with a template and had hole positions arranged close to the edges so they could be reached by a
railroad conductor A conductor (North American English) or guard (Commonwealth English) is a train crew member responsible for operational and safety duties that do not involve actual operation of the train/locomotive. The ''conductor'' title is most common in Nort ...
's
ticket punch A ticket punch (or control nippers) is a hand tool for permanently marking admission tickets and similar items of paper or card stock. It makes a perforation and a corresponding chad Chad (; ar, تشاد , ; french: Tchad, ), officially kno ...
, with the center reserved for written descriptions. Hollerith was originally inspired by railroad tickets that let the conductor encode a rough description of the passenger: When use of the ticket punch proved tiring and error-prone, Hollerith developed the
pantograph A pantograph (Greek roots παντ- "all, every" and γραφ- "to write", from their original use for copying writing) is a connected in a manner based on s so that the movement of one pen, in tracing an image, produces identical movements i ...

pantograph
"keyboard punch". It featured an enlarged diagram of the card, indicating the positions of the holes to be punched. A printed reading board could be placed under a card that was to be read manually. Hollerith envisioned a number of card sizes. In an article he wrote describing his proposed system for tabulating the 1890 U.S. census, Hollerith suggested a card 3 inches by 5½ inches of Manila stock "would be sufficient to answer all ordinary purposes." The cards used in the 1890 census had round holes, 12 rows and 24 columns. A reading board for these cards can be seen at the Columbia University Computing History site. At some point, became the standard card size. These are the dimensions of the then current paper currency of 1862–1923. Hollerith's original system used an ad hoc coding system for each application, with groups of holes assigned specific meanings, e.g. sex or marital status. His tabulating machine had up to 40 counters, each with a dial divided into 100 divisions, with two indicator hands; one which stepped one unit with each counting pulse, the other which advanced one unit every time the other dial made a complete revolution. This arrangement allowed a count up to 9,999. During a given tabulating run counters were assigned specific holes or, using
relay logic Relay logic is a method of implementing combinational logic in electrical control circuits by using several electrical relays wired in a particular configuration. Ladder logic The schematic diagrams for relay logic circuits are often called li ...
, combination of holes. Later designs led to a card with ten rows, each row assigned a digit value, 0 through 9, and 45 columns. Also see pages 5-14 for additional information on punched cards. This card provided for fields to record multi-digit numbers that tabulators could sum, instead of their simply counting cards. Hollerith's 45 column punched cards are illustrated in
Comrie Comrie (; Gaelic: ''Cuimridh''; Pictish: ''Aberlednock''; Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, k ...
's ''The application of the Hollerith Tabulating Machine to Brown's Tables of the Moon''.


IBM 80-column format and character codes

By the late 1920s, customers wanted to store more data on each punched card. Thomas J. Watson Sr., IBM's head, asked two of his top inventors,
Clair D. Lake Clair or Claire may refer to: *Claire (given name) Claire or Clair is a given name of French language, French origin. The word means ''clear'' in French in its feminine form. Its popularity in the United Kingdom peaked during the 1970s and 1980s ...
and J. Royden Pierce, to independently develop ways to increase data capacity without increasing the size of the punched card. Pierce wanted to keep round holes and 45 columns, but allow each column to store more data. Lake suggested rectangular holes, which could be spaced more tightly, allowing 80 columns per punched card, thereby nearly doubling the capacity of the older format. Watson picked the latter solution, introduced as ''The IBM Card'', in part because it was compatible with existing tabulator designs and in part because it could be protected by patents and give the company a distinctive advantage. This IBM card format, introduced in 1928, has rectangular holes, 80 columns, and 10 rows. Card size is by inches (187.325 mm × 82.55 mm). The cards are made of smooth stock, thick. There are about 143 cards to the inch (/cm). In 1964, IBM changed from square to round corners. They come typically in boxes of 2000 cards or as continuous form cards. Continuous form cards could be both pre-numbered and pre-punched for document control (checks, for example). Initially designed to record responses to
yes–no question In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include p ...
s, support for numeric, alphabetic and special characters was added through the use of columns and zones. The top three positions of a column are called zone punching positions, 12 (top), 11, and 0 (0 may be either a zone punch or a digit punch). For decimal data the lower ten positions are called digit punching positions, 0 (top) through 9. An arithmetic sign can be specified for a decimal field by overpunching the field's rightmost column with a zone punch: 12 for plus, 11 for minus (CR). For
Pound sterling The pound sterling (symbol: £; ISO code: GBP), known in some contexts simply as the pound or sterling, is the official currency A currency, "in circulation", from la, currens, -entis, literally meaning "running" or "traversing" in the ...
pre-decimalization currency a
penny A penny is a coin A coin is a small, flat, (usually, depending on the country or value) round piece of metal A metal (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ...

penny
column represents the values zero through eleven; 10 (top), 11, then 0 through 9 as above. An arithmetic sign can be punched in the adjacent
shilling The shilling is a historical coin, and the name of a unit of modern currencies A currency, "in circulation", from la, currens, -entis, literally meaning "running" or "traversing" in the most specific sense is money Image:National-D ...
column. Zone punches had other uses in processing, such as indicating a master card. Diagram: Note: The 11 and 12 zones were also called the X and Y zones, respectively.
    _______________________________________________
   / &-0123456789ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQR/STUVWXYZ
12,   x           xxxxxxxxx
11,    x                   xxxxxxxxx
 0,     x                           xxxxxxxxx
 1,      x        x        x        x
 2,       x        x        x        x
 3,        x        x        x        x
 4,         x        x        x        x
 5,          x        x        x        x
 6,           x        x        x        x
 7,            x        x        x        x
 8,             x        x        x        x
 9,              x        x        x        x
  , ________________________________________________

In 1931 IBM began introducing upper-case letters and special characters (Powers-Samas had developed the first commercial alphabetic punched card representation in 1921). The 26 letters have two punches (zone 2,11,0+ digit –9. The languages of Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Spain, Portugal and Finland require up to three additional letters; their punching is not shown here. Most special characters have two or three punches (zone 2,11,0, or none+ digit –7+ 8); a few special characters were exceptions: "&" is 12 only, "-" is 11 only, and "/" is 0 + 1). The Space character has no punches. The information represented in a column by a combination of zones
2, 11, 0 The comma is a punctuation Punctuation (or sometimes interpunction) is the use of spacing, conventional signs (called punctuation marks), and certain typographical devices as aids to the understanding and correct reading of written text, ...
and digits –9is dependent on the use of that column. For example, the combination "12-1" is the letter "A" in an alphabetic column, a plus signed digit "1" in a signed numeric column, or an unsigned digit "1" in a column where the "12" has some other use. The introduction of
EBCDIC Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code (EBCDIC; ) is an eight-bit character encoding used mainly on IBM mainframe and IBM midrange computer operating systems. It descended from the code used with punched cards and the corresponding six-b ...
in 1964 defined columns with as many as six punches (zones 2,11,0,8,9+ digit –7. IBM and other manufacturers used many different 80-column card
character encoding Character encoding is the process of assigning numbers to graphical Graphics (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country ...
s. A 1969 American National Standard defined the punches for 128 characters and was named the ''Hollerith Punched Card Code'' (often referred to simply as ''Hollerith Card Code''), honoring Hollerith. For some computer applications,
binary Binary may refer to: Science and technology Mathematics * Binary number In mathematics and digital electronics, a binary number is a number expressed in the base-2 numeral system or binary numeral system, which uses only two symbols: ty ...
formats were used, where each hole represented a single binary digit (or "
bit The bit is a basic unit of information in computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithm of an algorithm (Euclid's algo ...
"), every column (or row) is treated as a simple
bit field A bit field is a data structure Image:Hash table 3 1 1 0 1 0 0 SP.svg, 315px, A data structure known as a hash table. In computer science, a data structure is a data organization, management, and storage format that enables efficient access and ...
, and every combination of holes is permitted. For example, on the
IBM 701 The IBM 701 Electronic Data Processing Machine, known as the Defense Calculator while in development, was IBM International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Armonk, New ...
and
IBM 704 The IBM 704, introduced by IBM International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Armonk, New York, with operations in over 170 countries. The company began in 1911, founde ...
, card data was read, using an
IBM 711 The IBM 711 was a punched card A punched card (also punch cardSteven Pinker, in ''The Stuff of Thought'', Viking, 2007, p.362, notes the loss of ''-ed'' in pronunciation ''as it did in ice cream, mincemeat, and box set, formerly iced cream, minc ...
, into memory in row binary format. For each of the twelve rows of the card, 72 of the 80 columns would be read into two
36-bit 36-bit computers were popular in the early mainframe computer A mainframe computer, informally called a mainframe or big iron, is a computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed to carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical ...
words; a control panel was used to select the 72 columns to be read. Software would translate this data into the desired form. One convention was to use columns 1 through 72 for data, and columns 73 through 80 to sequentially number the cards, as shown in the picture above of a punched card for FORTRAN. Such numbered cards could be sorted by machine so that if a deck was dropped the sorting machine could be used to arrange it back in order. This convention continued to be used in FORTRAN, even in later systems where the data in all 80 columns could be read. As a prank punched cards could be made where every possible punch position had a hole. Such "
lace cardImage:IBM lace card.jpg, 300px, A lace card from the early 1970s A lace card is a punched card with all holes punched (also called a whoopee card, ventilator card, flyswatter card, or IBM doily). They were mainly used as practical jokes to cause disr ...
s" lacked structural strength, and would frequently buckle and jam inside the machine. The IBM 80-column punched card format dominated the industry, becoming known as just IBM cards, even though other companies made cards and equipment to process them. One of the most common punched card formats is the IBM 5081 card format, a general purpose layout with no field divisions. This format has digits printed on it corresponding to the punch positions of the digits in each of the 80 columns. Other punched card vendors manufactured cards with this same layout and number.


IBM ''Stub card'' and ''Short card'' formats

Long cards were available with a scored stub on either end which, when torn off, left an 80 column card. The torn off card is called a ''stub card''. 80-column cards were available scored, on either end, creating both a ''short card'' and a ''stub card'' when torn apart. Short cards can be processed by other IBM machines. A common length for stub cards was 51 columns. Stub cards were used in applications requiring tags, labels, or carbon copies.


IBM 40-column Port-A-Punch card format

According to the IBM Archive: ''IBM's Supplies Division introduced the Port-A-Punch in 1958 as a fast, accurate means of manually punching holes in specially scored IBM punched cards. Designed to fit in the pocket, Port-A-Punch made it possible to create punched card documents anywhere. The product was intended for "on-the-spot" recording operations—such as physical inventories, job tickets and statistical surveys—because it eliminated the need for preliminary writing or typing of source documents.''


IBM 96-column format

In 1969 IBM introduced a new, smaller, round-hole, 96-column card format along with the IBM System/3 low-end business computer. These cards have tiny (1 mm), circular holes, smaller than those in
paper tape Five- and eight-hole punched paper tape file:Harwell-dekatron-witch-10.jpg, Paper tape reader on the Harwell computer with a small piece of five-hole tape connected in a circle – creating a physical program loop Punched tape or perforated pape ...

paper tape
. Data is stored in 6-bit BCD, with three rows of 32 characters each, or 8-bit
EBCDIC Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code (EBCDIC; ) is an eight-bit character encoding used mainly on IBM mainframe and IBM midrange computer operating systems. It descended from the code used with punched cards and the corresponding six-b ...
. In this format, each column of the top tiers are combined with two punch rows from the bottom tier to form an 8-bit byte, and the middle tier is combined with two more punch rows, so that each card contains 64 bytes of 8-bit-per-byte binary coded data. This format was never very widely used; It was IBM-only, but they did not support it on any equipment beyond the System/3, where it was quickly superseded by the 1973 IBM 3740 Data Entry System using .


Powers/Remington Rand/UNIVAC 90-column format

The Powers/Remington Rand card format was initially the same as Hollerith's; 45 columns and round holes. In 1930,
Remington Rand Remington Rand was an early American business machine manufacturer, best known originally as a typewriter Video showing the operation of a typewriter A typewriter is a mechanical Mechanical may refer to: Machine * Mechanical system A ...
leap-frogged IBM's 80 column format from 1928 by coding two characters in each of the 45 columns – producing what is now commonly called the 90-column card. There are two sets of six rows across each card. The rows in each set are labeled 0, 1/2, 3/4, 5/6, 7/8 and 9. The even numbers in a pair are formed by combining that punch with a 9 punch. Alphabetic and special characters use 3 or more punches.


Powers-Samas formats

The British
Powers-Samas Powers-Samas was a British company which sold unit record equipment Starting at the end of the nineteenth century, well before the advent of electronic , data processing was performed using machines collectively referred to as unit record equ ...
company used a variety of card formats for their
unit record equipment Starting at the end of the nineteenth century, well before the advent of electronic , data processing was performed using machines collectively referred to as unit record equipment, electric accounting machines (EAM) or s. Unit record machines c ...
. They began with 45 columns and round holes. Later 36, 40 and 65 column cards were provided. A 130 column card was also available - formed by dividing the card into two rows, each row with 65 columns and each character space with 5 punch positions. A 21 column card was comparable to the IBM Stub card.


Mark sense format

Mark sense Electrographic is a term used for punched-card and page-scanning technology that allowed cards or pages marked with a pencil to be processed or converted into punched cards. The primary developer of electrographic systems was IBM, who used mark s ...
( electrographic) cards, developed by Reynold B. Johnson at IBM, have printed ovals that could be marked with a special electrographic pencil. Cards would typically be punched with some initial information, such as the name and location of an inventory item. Information to be added, such as quantity of the item on hand, would be marked in the ovals. Card punches with an option to detect mark sense cards could then punch the corresponding information into the card.


Aperture format

Aperture card 400px, right An aperture card is a type of punched card A punched card (also punch cardSteven Pinker, in ''The Stuff of Thought'', Viking, 2007, p.362, notes the loss of ''-ed'' in pronunciation ''as it did in ice cream, mincemeat, and box set, ...

Aperture card
s have a cut-out hole on the right side of the punched card. A piece of 35 mm microfilm containing a
microform Microforms are scaled-down reproductions of documents, typically either photographic film, films or paper, made for the purposes of transmission, storage, reading, and printing. Microform images are commonly reduced to about 4% or one twenty-fifth ...
image is mounted in the hole. Aperture cards are used for
engineering drawing An engineering drawing is a type of technical drawing Technical drawing, drafting or drawing, is the act and discipline Discipline is action ACTION is a bus operator in Canberra Canberra ( ) is the capital city of Austra ...
s from all engineering disciplines. Information about the drawing, for example the drawing number, is typically punched and printed on the remainder of the card.


Manufacturing

IBM's Fred M. Carroll developed a series of rotary presses that were used to produce punched cards, including a 1921 model that operated at 460 cards per minute (cpm). In 1936 he introduced a completely different press that operated at 850 cpm. Carroll's high-speed press, containing a printing cylinder, revolutionized the company's manufacturing of punched cards. It is estimated that between 1930 and 1950, the Carroll press accounted for as much as 25 percent of the company's profits. Discarded printing plates from these card presses, each printing plate the size of an IBM card and formed into a cylinder, often found use as desk pen/pencil holders, and even today are collectible IBM artifacts (every card layout had its own printing plate). In the mid-1930s a box of 1,000 cards cost $1.05.


Cultural impact

While punched cards have not been widely used for a generation, the impact was so great for most of the 20th century that they still appear from time to time in popular culture. For example: * Accommodation of people's names: ''The Man Whose Name Wouldn't Fit'' * Artist and architect
Maya Lin Maya Ying Lin (born October 5, 1959) is an American designer and sculptor. In 1981, while an undergraduate at Yale University, she achieved national recognition when she won a national design competition for the planned Vietnam Veterans Memoria ...
in 2004 designed a
public art Public art is art Art is a diverse range of (products of) human activities Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality, opposable thumbs, hairlessness, and intelligenc ...

public art
installation at Ohio University, titled "Input", that looks like a punched card from the air. * Tucker Hall at the University of Missouri - Columbia features architecture that is rumored to be influenced by punched cards. Although there are only two rows of windows on the building, a rumor holds that their spacing and pattern will spell out “M-I-Z beat k-U!” on a punched card, making reference to the university and state's rivalry with neighboring state Kansas. * At the University of Wisconsin - Madison, the exterior windows of the Engineering Research Building were modeled after a punched card layout, during its construction in 1966. * At the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, a portion of the exterior of Gamble Hall (College of Business and Public Administration), has a series of light-colored bricks that resembles a punched card spelling out "University of North Dakota." * In the 1964–65
Free Speech Movement Memorial to the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley The Free Speech Movement (FSM) was a massive, long-lasting student protest which took place during the 1964–65 academic year on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. The Move ...
, punched cards became a
metaphor... symbol of the "system"—first the registration system and then bureaucratic systems more generally ... a symbol of alienation ... Punched cards were the symbol of information machines, and so they became the symbolic point of attack. Punched cards, used for class registration, were first and foremost a symbol of uniformity. .... A student might feel "he is one of out of 27,500 IBM cards" ... The president of the Undergraduate Association criticized the University as "a machine ... IBM pattern of education."... Robert Blaumer explicated the symbolism: he referred to the "sense of impersonality... symbolized by the IBM technology."... ––Steven Lubar
* A legacy of the 80 column punched card format is that a display of 80 characters per row was a common choice in the design of
character-based terminals A computer terminal is an electronic or electromechanical In engineering Engineering is the use of scientific method, scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other items, including bridges, tunnels, roads, ...

character-based terminals
. As of September 2014, some character interface defaults, such as the command prompt window's width in Microsoft Windows, remain set at 80 columns and some file formats, such as
FITS Flexible Image Transport System (FITS) is an open standard defining a digital file format useful for storage, transmission and processing of data: formatted as multi-dimensional arrays (for example a 2D image), or tables. FITS is the most common ...
, still use 80-character card images. * In Arthur C. Clarke's early short story "
Rescue Party"Rescue Party" is a science fiction short story by English writer Arthur C. Clarke, first published in ''Astounding Science Fiction'' in May 1946. It was the first story that he sold, though not the first one published. It was republished in Clarke' ...
", the alien explorers find a "... wonderful battery of almost human Hollerith analyzers and the five thousand million punched cards holding all that could be recorded on each man, woman and child on the planet". Writing in 1946, Clarke, like almost all sci-fi authors, had not then foreseen the development and eventual ubiquity of the computer. * In "I.B.M.", the final track of her album ''This Is A Recording'', comedian
Lily Tomlin Mary Jean "Lily" Tomlin (born September 1, 1939) is an American actress, comedian, and writer. She started her career as a stand-up comedian Stand-up comedy is a comedy Performing arts, performance and narration, narrative craft whereby a come ...

Lily Tomlin
gives instructions that, if followed, would purportedly shrink the holes on a punch card (used by
AT&T AT&T Inc. is an American multinational Multinational may refer to: * Multinational corporation, a corporate organization operating in multiple countries * Multinational force, a military body from multiple countries * Multinational state, a ...
at the time for customer billing), making it unreadable.


Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate

A common example of the requests often printed on punched cards which were to be individually handled, especially those intended for the public to use and return is "Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate" (in the UK - "Do not bend, spike, fold or mutilate"). Coined by Charles A. Phillips, it became a motto for the post-
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literatur ...
era (even though many people had no idea what spindle meant), and was widely mocked and satirized. Some 1960s students at Berkeley wore buttons saying: "Do not fold, spindle or mutilate. I am a student". The motto was also used for a 1970 book by Doris Miles Disney with a plot based around an early computer dating service and a 1971 Television film, made-for-TV Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate, movie based on that book, and a similarly titled 1967 Canadian short film, ''Do Not Fold, Staple, Spindle or Mutilate''.


Standards

* ANSI INCITS 21-1967 (R2002), ''Rectangular Holes in Twelve-Row Punched Cards'' (formerly ANSI X3.21-1967 (R1997)) Specifies the size and location of rectangular holes in twelve-row punched cards. * ANSI X3.11 – 1990 ''American National Standard Specifications for General Purpose Paper Cards for Information Processing'' * ANSI X3.26 – 1980/R1991) ''Hollerith Punched Card Code'' * ISO 1681:1973 ''Information processing – Unpunched paper cards – Specification'' * ISO 6586:1980 ''Data processing – Implementation of the ISO 7- bit and 8- bit coded character sets on punched cards''. Defines ISO 7-bit and 8-bit character sets on punched cards as well as the representation of 7-bit and 8-bit combinations on 12-row punched cards. Derived from, and compatible with, the Hollerith Code, ensuring compatibility with existing punched card files.


Punched card devices

Processing of punched cards was handled by a variety of machines, including: * Keypunches — machines with a keyboard that punched cards from operator entered data. * Unit record equipment — machines that process data on punched cards. Employed prior to the widespread use of digital computers. Includes card sorters, tabulating machines and a variety of other machines * Punched card input/output, Computer punched card reader — a computer input device used to read executable computer programs and data from punched cards under computer control. * Punched card input/output, Computer card punch — a computer output device that punches holes in cards under computer control. * Voting machine#Punched card, Voting machines — used into the 21st century


See also

*
Aperture card 400px, right An aperture card is a type of punched card A punched card (also punch cardSteven Pinker, in ''The Stuff of Thought'', Viking, 2007, p.362, notes the loss of ''-ed'' in pronunciation ''as it did in ice cream, mincemeat, and box set, ...

Aperture card
* Card image * Computer programming in the punched card era * Edge-notched card * History of computing hardware * Kimball tag—punched card price tags * Paper data storage * Punched card input/output * Punched tape * Lace card


References

* The initial version of this article, October 18, 2001, was based on material taken from the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing and incorporated under the "relicensing" terms of the GFDL, version 1.1.


Further reading

* * Machine illustrations were provided by Power-Samas Accounting Machines and British Tabulating Machine Co. * An accessible book of recollections (sometimes with errors), with photographs and descriptions of many unit record machines. * An account of how IBM Cards are manufactured, with special emphasis on quality control. * * Includes a description of Samas punched cards and illustration of an Underwood Samas punched card. * * Includes extensive, detailed, description of Hollerith's first machines and their use for the 1890 census.


External links


An Emulator for Punched cards
* – a U.S. company that supplied punched card equipment and supplies until 2011.

Atlas Computer Laboratory, 1960 * * article about use of punched cards in the 1990s (Cardamation) * * (Collection shows examples of left, right, and no corner cuts.)

- a collection at Gesellschaft für Software mbH

(Shows examples of both left and right corner cuts.)
VintageTech
– a U.S. company that converts punched cards to conventional media * {{Authority control Punched card, Computer-related introductions in 1887 History of computing hardware History of software IBM storage devices Legacy hardware Wikipedia articles with ASCII art Articles containing video clips