The tabulating machine was an electromechanical machine designed to
assist in summarizing information stored on punched cards. Invented by
Herman Hollerith, the machine was developed to help process data for
the 1890 U.S. Census. Later models were widely used for business
applications such as accounting and inventory control. It spawned a
class of machines, known as unit record equipment, and the data
The term "Super Computing" was used by the
New York World
1 1890 census 2 Following the 1890 census 3 Operation 4 Selected Models and timeline 5 See also 6 Notes 7 References 8 Further reading 9 External links
The 1880 census had taken eight years to process. Since the U.S.
Constitution mandates a census every ten years to apportion both
congressional representatives and direct taxes among the states, a
larger staff or faster method was required.
In the late 1880s Herman Hollerith, inspired by conductors using holes
punched in different positions on a railway ticket to record traveler
details such as gender and approximate age, invented the recording of
data on a machine readable medium. Prior uses of machine readable
media had been for lists of instructions (not data) to drive
programmed machines such as Jacquard looms. "After some initial trials
with paper tape, he settled on punched cards..." Hollerith used
punched cards with round holes, 12 rows and 24 columns. His tabulator
used electromechanical relays (and solenoids) to increment mechanical
counters. A set of spring-loaded wires were suspended over the card
reader. The card sat over pools of mercury, pools corresponding to the
possible hole positions in the card. When the wires were pressed onto
the card, punched holes allowed wires to dip into the mercury pools,
making an electrical contact that could be used for counting,
sorting, and setting off a bell to let the operator know the card had
been read. The tabulator had 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 10,000. During a given tabulating run, counters
could be assigned a specific hole or, using relay logic, a combination
of holes, e.g. to count married females. If the card was to be
sorted a compartment lid of the sorting box would open for storage of
the card, the choice of compartment depending on the data in the
Hollerith's method was used for the 1890 census. Clerks used
keypunches to punch holes in the cards entering age, state of
residence, gender, and other information from the returns.
Following the 1890 census
The advantages of the technology were immediately apparent for
accounting and tracking inventory. Hollerith started his own business
as The Hollerith Electric Tabulating System, specializing in punched
card data processing equipment. In 1896 he incorporated the
Tabulating Machine Company. In that year he introduced the Hollerith
Integrating Tabulator, which could add numbers coded on punched cards,
not just count the number of holes.
In its basic form, a tabulating machine would read one card at a time,
print portions (fields) of the card on fan-fold paper, possibly
rearranged, and add one or more numbers punched on the card to one or
more counters, called accumulators. On early models, the accumulator
register dials would be read manually after a card run to get totals.
Later models could print totals directly. Cards with a particular
punch could be treated as master cards causing different behavior. For
example, customer master cards could be merged with sorted cards
recording individual items purchased. When read by the tabulating
machine to create invoices, the billing address and customer number
would be printed from the master card, and then individual items
purchased and their price would be printed. When the next master card
was detected, the total price would be printed from the accumulator
and the page ejected to the top of the next page, typically using a
carriage control tape.
With successive stages or cycles of punched-card processing, fairly
complex calculations could be made if one had a sufficient set of
equipment. (In modern data processing terms, one can think of each
stage as an
SQL clause: SELECT (filter columns), then WHERE (filter
cards, or "rows"), then maybe a GROUP BY for totals and counts, then a
SORT BY; and then perhaps feed those back to another set of SELECT and
WHERE cycles again if needed.) A human operator had to retrieve, load,
and store the various card decks at each stage.
Selected Models and timeline
Hollerith's first tabulators were used for the U.S. 1890 Census.
The first Tabulating Machine Company (TMC) automatic feed tabulator,
operating at 150 cards/minute, was developed in 1906.
The first TMC printing tabulator was developed in 1920.
TMC Type IV
The 301 (better known as the Type IV)
The 401, introduced in 1933, was an early entry in a long series of
Introduced in 1934, the 405 Alphabetical
BULL BS-PR tabulating machine
The 1952 Bull Gamma 3 could be attached to this tabulator or to a card read/punch.
Introduced in 1949, it was later adapted to serve as an input/output
peripheral for a number of early electronic calculators and computers.
Its printing mechanism was used in the
For early use of tabulators for scientific computations see
Leslie Comrie Wallace John Eckert
^ The "sorting box" was controlled by the tabulator. The "sorter", an
independent machine, was a later development. See: Austrian, Geoffrey
D. (1982). Herman Hollerith: Forgotten Giant of Information
^ Eames, Charles; Eames, Ray (1973). A
Fierheller, George A. (2014). Do not fold, spindle or mutilate: the "hole" story of punched cards (PDF). Stewart Pub. ISBN 1-894183-86-X. An accessible book of recollections (sometimes with errors), with photographs and descriptions of many unit record machines. The chapter It all adds Up describes IBM tabulators and accounting machines. Hollerith, Herman (December 1894). "The Electric Tabulating Machine". Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Blackwell Publishing. 57 (4): 678–682. doi:10.2307/2979610. JSTOR 2979610. From (Randell, 1982) ... brief... fascinating article... describes the way in which tabulators and sorters were used on ... 100 million cards ... 1890 census. Kistermann, F.W. (Summer 1995). "The way to the first automatic sequence-controlled calculator: the 1935 DEHOMAG D 11 tabulator". Annals of the History of Computing. 17 (2): 33–49. doi:10.1109/85.380270. Randell (ed.), Brian (1982). The Origins of Digital Computers, Selected Papers, 3rd ed. Springer-Verlag. ISBN 0-387-11319-3. CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link) Chapter 3, Tabulating Machines, has excerpts of Hollerith's 1889 An Electric Tabulating System and Couffignal's 1933 Calculating Machines: Their Principles and Evolution.
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