Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 Herman Hollerith
Herman Hollerith

"The object of my invention is to generally facilitate the compilation and increase the scope of . . . statistics."

Herman Hollerith (1860–1929)
School of Mines 1879, PhD 1890

Hollerith has been called the world's first statistical engineer and the father of modern information processing. He invented punched cards to record data and a tabulating machine and sorter to process the results electronically. Inspiration for the cards came as Hollerith observed a tram conductor punch holes in passenger tickets. He based his tabulating machine on the Jacquard loom, which controlled woven patterns through holes made in a series of cards. The resulting punch card technology was used in computers until the late 1970s.

After working on the 1880 U.S. census, which took seven years to complete, Hollerith used his invention for the 1890 census, which was completed in six weeks. The machine also earned him his Columbia PhD in 1890 and formed the basis for the Tabulating Machine Company, which he founded in 1896. A few mergers and name changes later, the company became the International Business Machines Corporation in 1924.

Read more about Hollerith in the Columbia Encyclopedia.

The Hollerith Tabulating Machine

Hollerith in his own words.

Forgotten giant of information processing

Hollerith's full-length biography.

1890 U.S. Census

The census in which Hollerith's machine was first used.

Write Columbia's History

Columbia's history, as seen by those who have studied, taught, and worked here.

Columbians Ahead of Their Time

Columbians have changed the world and how we see it.

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