portrait of Herman Hollerith

Herman Hollerith

Born February 29, 1860 - Died November 17, 1929

Art of Compiling Statistics; Apparatus for Compiling Statistics

Patent Nos. 395,781; 395,782; 395,783

Inducted 1990

Herman Hollerith invented and developed a punch-card tabulation machine system that revolutionized statistical computation.

Born in Buffalo, New York, the son of German immigrants, Hollerith enrolled in the City College of New York at age 15 and graduated from the Columbia School of Mines with distinction at the age of 19.

His first job was with the U.S. Census effort of 1880. Hollerith successively taught mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked for the U.S. Patent Office. The young engineer developed an electrically actuated brake system for the railroads, but the Westinghouse steam-actuated brake prevailed.

Hollerith began working on the tabulating system during his days at MIT, filing for the first patent in 1884. He developed a hand-fed 'press' that sensed the holes in punched cards; a wire would pass through the holes into a cup of mercury beneath the card closing the electrical circuit. This process triggered mechanical counters and sorter bins and tabulated the appropriate data.

Hollerith's system-including punch, tabulator, and sorter-allowed the official 1890 population count to be tallied in six months, and in another two years all the census data was completed and defined; the cost was $5 million below the forecasts and saved more than two years' time.

His later machines mechanized the card-feeding process, added numbers, and sorted cards, in addition to merely counting data.

In 1896 Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company, forerunner of Computer Tabulating Recording Company (CTR). He served as a consulting engineer with CTR until retiring in 1921.

In 1924 CTR changed its name to IBM- the International Business Machines Corporation.

Reprint from Inventure Place, the National Hall of Fame

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Last Updated on October 28, 2004