Herman Hollerith

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Herman Hollerith (1860-1929)

Herman Hollerith (February 29, 1860November 17, 1929) was an American statistician who developed the Jacquard's punched card idea to represent the census data, and to then read and collate this data using an automatic machine.


He was born on February 29, 1860 in Buffalo, New York to Johann George Hollerith (1808-1869); and Franciska Brunn, both of Rheinfalz, Germany.


He graduated from City College of New York, with a bachelor's 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 the Columbia College of Mines.


In 1890 in Washington, District of Columbia he married Lucia Beverley Talcott (1865-?) of Vera Cruz, Mexico and they had the following children: Lucia Beverley Hollerith (1891-?); Herman Hollerith II (1892-?); Charles Hollerith (1893-?); Nannie Talcott Hollerith (1898-?); Richard Hollerith (1900-?); and Virginia Hollerith (1902-?).

Electronic tabulating machine

Hollerith spent 1882 on the Mechanical Engineering faculty at MIT. During that year he developed a prototype of a system for storing data on punched cards which was partly inspired by the system used by railroad conductors in which holes punched in various places on a passenger's ticket identified the holder's gender, age group, etc. Urged on by John Shaw Billings, the father of a personal friend who worked for the census bureau, he developed a mechanism for reading the presense or absence of holes in the cards using spring-mounted nails that passed through the holes to make electrical connections to trigger a counter to record one more of each value. This system made it possible for the US Census Bureau to have the data from the 1890 to be processed in months instead of years.


He described his idea in Patent No. 395,782 of January 8, 1889 as follows:

The herein described method of compiling statistics which consists in recording separate statistical items pertaining to the individual by holes or combinations of holed 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.

Tabulating Machine Company

He started his own business in 1896 when he founded Tabulating Machine Company. He also invented the first automatic card-feed mechanism, the first key punch (i.e. punch that was operated from a keyboard) allowing a skilled operator to punch 200-300 cards per hour, and a wiring panel in his 1906 Type I Tabulator allowing it to do different jobs without having to be rebuilt (the first step towards programming). The 1890 Tabulator was hardwired to operate only on 1890 Census cards. These inventions were the foundation of the modern information processing industry.

International Business Machines

In 1911 his firm merged with two others to form the Computing Tabulating Recording (CTR) Corporation, which later renamed itself IBM in 1924. The Hollerith system was used for the 1911 UK census. The contract was awarded to the British Tabulating Machine Company.


He died in 1929 of a heart attack and was buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, Virginia.


The "80-column" system that stored data in 80 columns was developed in 1928 and became widely used in all large organizations across the world for recording, storing and processing data. The majority of typewriters, early professional text user interface computers, terminals and wordprocessor systems (including printers) used 80 columns as the de facto standard for printouts and screen display (until graphical user interfaces displaced text interfaces).

External links


de:Herman Hollerith es:Herman Hollerith fr:Herman Hollerith nl:Herman Hollerith pl:Herman Hollerith pt:Herman Hollerith ru:Холлерит, Герман sk:Herman Hollerith sv:Herman Hollerith


  • 1860 Birth of Herman Hollerith
  • 1880 US Census in Manhattan
  • 1890 Census compiled with his tabulating machine
  • 1929 Death of Herman Hollerith