Herman Hollerith (February 29, 1860 – November 17, 1929) was an
American inventor who developed an electromechanical punched card
tabulator to assist in summarizing information and, later, accounting.
He was the founder of the Tabulating Machine Company that was
amalgamated (via stock acquisition) in 1911 with three other companies
to form a fifth company, the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company
later renamed IBM. Hollerith is regarded as one of the seminal figures
in the development of data processing. His invention of the punched
card tabulating machine marks the beginning of the era of
semiautomatic data processing systems, and his concept dominated that
landscape for nearly a century.
1 Personal life
Electromechanical tabulation of data
3 Inventions and businesses
4 Death and legacy
6 Further reading
7 External links
Herman Hollerith was born the son of German immigrant Prof. Georg
Großfischlingen (near Neustadt an der Weinstraße) in
Buffalo, New York, where he spent his early childhood. He entered
City College of New York
City College of New York in 1875, graduated from the Columbia
University School of Mines with an "Engineer of Mines" degree in 1879
at age 19, and in 1890 asked for (and was awarded) a Ph.D based on his
development of the tabulating system. In 1882 Hollerith joined
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he taught mechanical
engineering and conducted his first experiments with punched cards.
He eventually moved to Washington, D.C., living in Georgetown, with a
home on 29th Street and a business building at 31st Street and the
C&O Canal, where today there is a commemorative plaque installed
by IBM. He died in Washington D.C. of a heart attack.
Electromechanical tabulation of data
Main article: Unit record equipment
At the urging of John Shaw Billings, Hollerith developed a mechanism
using electrical connections to increment a counter, recording
information. A key idea was that a datum could be recorded by the
presence or absence of a hole at a specific location on a card. For
example, if a specific hole location indicates marital status, then a
hole there can indicate married while not having a hole indicates
single. Hollerith determined that data in specified locations on a
card, the now-familiar rows and columns, could be counted or sorted
electromechanically. A description of this system, An Electric
Tabulating System (1889), was submitted by Hollerith to Columbia
University as his doctoral thesis, and is reprinted in Randell's
book. On January 8, 1889, Hollerith was issued U.S. Patent
395,782, claim 2 of which reads:
Photo dated December 31, 1919 of census worker with Hollerith
pantograph punch. The keyboard layout is for the US Census 1920
Replica of Hollerith tabulating machine with sorting box, circa 1890.
The "sorting box" was an adjunct to, and controlled by, the tabulator.
The "sorter", an independent machine, was a later development.
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
Inventions and businesses
Hollerith punched card
Hollerith's grave at Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown in Washington,
Hollerith had left teaching and begun working for the United States
Census Bureau in the year he filed his first patent application.
Titled "Art of Compiling Statistics", it was filed on September 23,
1884; U.S. Patent 395,782 was granted on January 8, 1889.
Hollerith initially did business under his own name, as The Hollerith
Electric Tabulating System, specializing in punched card data
processing equipment. He provided tabulators and other machines
under contract for the Census Office, which used them for the 1890
census. The net effect of the many changes from the 1880 census: the
larger population, the data items to be collected, the Census Bureau
headcount, the scheduled publications, and the use of Hollerith's
electromechanical tabulators, was to reduce the time required to
process the census from eight years for the 1880 census to six years
for the 1890 census.
In 1896 Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company (in 1905
renamed The Tabulating Machine Company). Many major census bureaus
around the world leased his equipment and purchased his cards, as did
major insurance companies. Hollerith's machines were used for censuses
in England, Italy, Germany, Russia, Austria, Canada, France, Norway,
Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines, and again in the 1900
He invented the first automatic card-feed mechanism and the first
keypunch. The 1890 Tabulator was hardwired to operate on 1890 Census
cards. A control panel in his 1906 Type I Tabulator simplified
rewiring for different jobs. The 1920s removable control panel
supported prewiring and near instant job changing. These inventions
were among the foundations of the data processing industry and
Hollerith's punched cards (later used for computer input/output)
continued in use for almost a century.
In 1911 four corporations, including Hollerith's firm, were
amalgamated to form a fifth company, the
Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR). Under the presidency
of Thomas J. Watson, CTR was renamed International Business Machines
Corporation (IBM) in 1924. By 1933 The Tabulating Machine Company name
had disappeared as subsidiary companies were subsumed by IBM.
Death and legacy
Hollerith is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in the Georgetown
neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Hollerith cards were named after
Herman Hollerith (they eventually
reached 128 columns width), as were Hollerith constants (a string
constant declaration in some computer programming languages, sometimes
called a Hollerith string).
His great-grandson, the Rt. Rev.
Herman Hollerith IV, is the Episcopal
bishop of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, and another
great-grandson, Randolph Marshall Hollerith, is an Episcopal priest
and the dean of Washington National Cathedral in Washington,
^ "Lucia Beverly Talcott". ancestry.com. Retrieved February 28,
^ Cambell-Kelly, Martin; Aspray, William (2004). Computer: a history
of the information machine (2 ed.). Basic Books. p. 16.
^ a b c Da Cruz, Frank (March 28, 2011). "Herman Hollerith".
www.columbia.edu. Columbia University. Retrieved February 28,
^ Brooks, Frederick P.; Iverson, Kenneth E. (1963). Automatic Data
Processing. Wiley. p. 94 "semiautomatic".
Herman Hollerith (1860-1929)". www.hnf.de. Paderborn: Heinz Nixdorf
MuseumsForum. April 18, 2012. Retrieved February 28, 2014.
^ Austrian, 1982, p.56
^ a b O'Connor, J.J.; Robertson, E.F. "Herman Hollerith". The MacTutor
History of Mathematics Archive. School of Mathematics and Statistics,
University of St Andrews, Scotland. Retrieved March 5, 2013.
^ Lydenberg, Harry Miller (1924). John Shaw Billings: Creator of the
National Medical Library and its Catalogue, First Director of the New
York Public Library. American Library Association. p. 32.
^ 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
^ a b US patent 395782, Herman Hollerith, "Art of compiling
statistics", issued 1889-01-08
^ (Truesdell, 1965, p.144)
^ Austrian, Geoffrey D. (1982). Herman Hollerith: Forgotten Giant of
Columbia University Press. pp. 41,
178–179. ISBN 0-231-05146-8.
^ a b "Oak Hill Cemetery Map". www.oakhillcemeterydc.org. Retrieved
January 8, 2018.
^ (Austrian, 1982, p.153)
^ Report of the Commissioner of Labor In Charge of The Eleventh Census
to the Secretary of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30,
1895 Washington, D.C., July 29, 1895 Page 9: "You may confidently look
for the rapid reduction of the force of this office after the 1st of
October, and the entire cessation of clerical work during the present
calendar year. ... The condition of the work of the Census Division
and the condition of the final reports show clearly that the work of
the Eleventh Census will be completed at least two years earlier than
was the work of the Tenth Census." Carroll D. Wright Commissioner of
Labor in Charge.
^ (Engelbourg, 1954, p.52)
^ a b Mackenzie, Charles E. (1980). Coded Character Sets, History and
Development. The Systems Programming Series (1 ed.). Addison-Wesley
Publishing Company, Inc. p. 7. ISBN 0-201-14460-3.
IBM Archives: Frequently Asked Questions" (PDF). Some
accounts of the forming CTR state that only three corporations were
included. This reference notes that only three of the four
corporations are represented in the CTR name. That may be the reason
for the differing accounts.
^ William Rodgers (1969). THINK: A Biography of the Watsons and IBM.
^ American Standard FORTRAN. American Standards Association,
X3.9-1966. p. 9. "4.2.6 Hollerith Type. A Hollerith datum
is a string of characters. This string may consist of any characters
capable of representation in the processor. The blank character is a
valid and significant character in a Hollerith datum."
^ Steven G. Vegh (February 13, 2009). "New Epsicopal bishop to face
tough challenges". Virginian-Pilot.
^ "Virginia diocese to install bishop". Richmond Times-Dispatch.
For more on
Punched card history, technology, see: Unit record
IBM#Further reading and History of IBM#Further reading
Ashurst, Gareth (1983). Pioneers of Computing. Frederick Muller.
Austrian, Geoffrey D. (1982). Herman Hollerith: The Forgotten Giant of
Columbia University Press. p. 418.
Beniger, James R. (1986/2009) The Control Revolution: Technological
and Economic Origins of the Information Society, Harvard University
Press, 1986 pp. 390–425
Cortada, James W. (1993). Before the Computer: IBM, NCR, Burroughs,
& Remington Rand & the Industry they created, 1865 - 1956.
Princeton. p. 344. ISBN 0-691-04807-X.
Essinger, James (2004). Jacquard's Web: How a Hand-Loom Led to the
Birth of the Information Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Engelbourg, Saul (1954). International Business Machines: A Business
History (Ph.D.). Columbia University. p. 385. Reprinted by
Arno Press, 1976, from the best available copy. Some text is
Heide, Lars (2009). Punched-Card Systems and the Early Information
Explosion, 1880-1945. Johns Hopkins. ISBN 0-8018-9143-4.
Hollerith, Herman (April 1889). "An Electric Tabulating System". The
Columbia University School of Mines. X (16):
238–255. From the Columbia Univ. History site: This article is
the basis for his 1890 Columbia Ph.D. Extracts reprinted in (Randell,
Hollerith, Herman (1890). 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
Hollerith, Herman (December 1894). "The Electrical 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."
Truedsell, Leon E. (1965). The Development of Punch Card Tabulation in
the Bureau of the Census 1890-1940. US GPO. Includes extensive,
detailed, description of Hollerith's first machines and their use for
the 1890 census.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Herman Hollerith.
Herman Hollerith (2017) In Immigrant Entrepreneurship Recommended.
Hollerith's patents from 1889: US 395781 US 395782 US
Columbia University Computing History:
Herman Hollerith Hollerith's
1890 Census Tabulator
Herman Hollerith The Tabulating Machine Co. plant
Early Office Museum: Punched Card Tabulating Machines
O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Herman Hollerith", MacTutor
History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews .
The Norwegian Historical Data Center: Census 1900 Includes a
description of the use of Hollerith machines ("complicated, American
enumeration machines"), together with illustrations.
The Research notes on
Herman Hollerith collection at Hagley Museum and
Library includes the research materials Geoffrey Austrian used to
write Herman Hollerith: Forgotten Giant of Information Processing.
Richard Hollerith Papers at Hagley Museum and Library. Richard
Hollerith was the grandson of
Herman Hollerith and part of this
collection documents the sale and settlement of the Herman Hollerith
estate following the death of his last remaining child, Virginia.
Fleishman, Sandra (March 5, 2005). "$8.5 Million And Counting".
Washington Post. Retrieved May 4, 2010. – Hollerith's house
ISNI: 0000 0000 5561 5396