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Herman Hollerith

Herman Hollerith
Herman Hollerith in 1888
Born (1860-02-29)February 29, 1860
Buffalo, New York
Died November 17, 1929(1929-11-17) (aged 69)
Washington, D.C.
Resting place
Oak Hill Cemetery
Education City College of New York (1875)
Columbia University School of Mines (1879)
Occupation Statistician, inventor, businessman
Known for mechanical tabulation of punched card data and IBM
Spouse(s) Lucia Beverley Talcott (1865–1944) (m. 1890–1929)
Awards Elliott Cresson Medal (1890)
World's Columbian Exposition, Bronze Medal (1892)
National Inventors Hall of Fame (1990)
Medaille d'Or, Exposition Universelle de 1889

Herman Hollerith (February 29, 1860 – November 17, 1929) was an American statistician and inventor who developed a mechanical tabulator based on punched cards to rapidly tabulate statistics from millions of pieces of data. He was the founder of the Tabulating Machine Company that later merged to become IBM. Hollerith is widely regarded as the father of modern machine data processing.[1] With his invention of the punched card evaluating machine the beginning of the era of automatic data processing systems was marked. His draft of this concept dominated the computing landscape for nearly a century.[2]


  • Personal life 1
  • Electrical tabulation of data 2
  • Inventions and businesses 3
  • Death and Legacy 4
  • Notes 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

Personal life

Herman Hollerith was born the son of C&O Canal, where today there is a commemorative plaque installed by IBM. He died in Washington D.C. of a heart attack.

Electrical tabulation of data

Hollerith tabulating machine and sorting box.[4]

At the urging of John Shaw Billings,[5] Hollerith developed a mechanism using electrical connections to trigger a counter, recording information. A key idea was that data could be encoded by the locations of holes in a card. Hollerith determined that data punched in specified locations on a card, in the now-familiar rows and columns, could be counted or sorted mechanically. 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.[6] On January 8, 1889, Hollerith was issued U.S. Patent 395,782,[7] claim 2 of which 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.

Inventions and businesses

Hollerith punched card

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.[8]

Hollerith card puncher used by the United States Census Bureau

Hollerith built machines under contract for the Census Office, which used them to tabulate the 1890 census in only one year.[9] The previous 1880 census had taken eight years. In 1896 Hollerith started his own business when he founded 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,[10] Russia, Austria, Canada, France, Norway, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines, and again in the 1900 census.[2] To make his system work, he invented the first automatic card-feed mechanism and the first keypunch (that is, a punch operated by a keyboard); a skilled operator could punch 200–300 cards per hour. He also invented a tabulator. The 1890 Tabulator was hardwired to operate only on 1890 Census cards. A plugboard control panel in his 1906 Type I Tabulator allowed it to do different jobs without being rebuilt (the first step towards programming). These inventions were among the foundations of the modern information processing industry and Hollerith's punchcards (though later adapted to encode computer programs) continued in use for almost a century.

In 1911 four corporations, including Hollerith's firm, merged to form the Computing Tabulating Recording Company (CTR).[11] Under the presidency of Thomas J. Watson, it was renamed International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in 1924.

Death and Legacy

Hollerith is buried at

  • Hollerith's patents from 1889: US 395781  US 395782  US 395783 
  • Hollerith's 1890 Census Tabulator
  • IBM Archives: Herman Hollerith
  • IBM Archives: Tabulating Machine Co. plant
  • Early Office Museum: Punched Card Tabulating Machines
  • Hollerith page at the National Hall of Fame
  • Map to his gravesite
  • Columbia University Computing History: Herman Hollerith
  •  .
  • The Norwegian Historical Data Center: Census 1900 Includes a description of the use of Hollerith machines ("complicated, American enumeration machines"), together with illustrations.
  • Fleishman, Sandra (March 5, 2005). "$8.5 Million And Counting".   – Hollerith's house
  • 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.

Hollerith's grave at Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

External links

  • 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).  
  • Hollerith, H. (April 1889). "An Electric Tabulating System". The Quarterly, Columbia University School of Mines X (16): 238–255. 
  • Hollerith, Herman (December 1894). "The Electric Tabulating Machine". Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Vol. 57, No. 4) 57 (4): 678–682.  
  • Essinger, James (2004). Jacquard's Web: How a Hand-Loom Led to the Birth of the Information Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  • Austrian, G.D. (1982). Herman Hollerith: The Forgotten Giant of Information Processing. Columbia.  
  • Heide, Lars (2009). Punched-Card Systems and the Early Information Explosion, 1880-1945. Johns Hopkins.  

Further reading

  1. ^ a b "Herman Hollerith (1860-1929)".  
  2. ^ a b c Da Cruz, Frank (28 Mar 2011). "Herman Hollerith". Columbia University. Retrieved 28 Feb 2014. 
  3. ^ 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 5 March 2013. 
  4. ^ 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 Processing. Columbia University Press. pp. 41, 178–179.  
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ Randell (ed.), Brian (1982). The Origins of Digital Computers, Selected Papers (3rd ed.). Springer-Verlag.  
  7. ^ US patent 395782, Herman Hollerith, "Art of compiling statistics", issued 1889-01-08 
  8. ^ The Invention and Development of the Hollerith Punched Card
  9. ^ Hollerith's Electric Sorting and Tabulating Machine, ca. 1895 from the American Memory archives of the Library of Congress
  10. ^ IBM and the Holocaust the Strategic Alliance, Black
  11. ^ "IBM Archives: Frequently Asked Questions" (PDF).  Some accounts of the merger forming CTR state that three corporations were merged. This reference notes that only three of the four merged corporations are represented in the CTR name. That may be the reason for the differing accounts.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^


His great-grandson, 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 in Richmond, Virginia.[13][14]

Hollerith cards were named after the elder Herman Hollerith, as were Hollerith constants (also sometimes called Hollerith strings), an early type of string constant declaration (in computer programming).

as is his son, Herman Hollerith, Jr. (1892-1991). [12]

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