Herman Hollerith

Herman Hollerith

Hollerith, Herman, 1860-1929, American inventor, b. Buffalo, N.Y. After graduating from Columbia Univ. (B.S., 1879), he worked on the U.S. Census of 1880. Intrigued by the problem of tabulating vast amounts of data, he developed over the next several years a card that could be represent data through a series of punched holes and a number of machines for punching and tabulating the cards. In 1896 Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company which, through mergers and acquisitions, grew into the International Business Machines Company.

See G. Austrian, Herman Hollerith (1982).

Herman Hollerith (February 29, 1860November 17, 1929) was a German-American statistician who developed a mechanical tabulator based on punched cards in order to rapidly tabulate statistics from millions of pieces of data.

Personal life

Hollerith entered the City College of New York in 1875 and graduated from the Columbia University School of Mines with an "Engineer of Mines" degree in 1879. In 1880, he listed himself as a mining engineer while living in Manhattan, and he completed his Ph.D. in 1890 at Columbia University. In 1890, on September 15, he married Lucia Beverley Talcott (December 3, 1865August 4, 1944) of Veracruz, Mexico, and they had six children (three sons and three daughters). Other than his inventions, Hollerith "was said to cherish three things: his German heritage, his privacy and his cat Bismarck. He also "liked good cigars, fine wine, Guernsey cows, and money.... He disliked property taxes and hard-driving salesmen.

He died on November 17, 1929 of a heart attack and was buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

Electronic tabulation of statistical data

At the urging of John Shaw Billings, Hollerith developed a mechanism to make electrical connections trigger a counter to record information. A key idea was that data could be coded numerically. Hollerith saw that if numbers could be punched in specified locations on a card, in the now familiar rows and columns, then the cards could be counted or sorted mechanically. On January 8 1889, he was issued U.S. Patent 395,782, 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 had left teaching and begun working for the United States Census Office in the year he filed his first patent application. Titled "Art of Compiling Statistics", it was filed on September 23, 1884; U.S. Patent No. 395782 was granted on January 8, 1889.

Hollerith built machines under contract for the Census Office, which used them to tabulate the 1890 census in only one year. The 1880 census had taken eight years. Hollerith then started his own business in 1896, founding the Tabulating Machine Company. Most of the major census bureaus around the world leased his equipment and purchased his cards, as did major insurance companies. To make his system work, he invented the first automatic card-feed mechanism and the first key punch (i.e. a punch that was operated from a keyboard), which allowed a skilled operator to punch 200–300 cards per hour. He also invented a tabulator. The 1890 Tabulator was hardwired to operate only on 1890 Census cards. A wiring panel in his 1906 Type I Tabulator allowed it to do different jobs without having to be rebuilt (the first step towards programming).These inventions were the foundation of the modern information processing industry.

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

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Further reading


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