Sunday, September 23, 2018

BIRTH OF EDP | 1884 (September 23)

September 23, 2018–This day in 1884, the basic element of modern information technology was born, electronic data processing (EDP). 

Herman Hollerith patented his mechanical tabulating machine, the first EDP system. 

He created the machine to handle data-processing needs at the U.S. Census Bureau, where he began his career.

Hollerith printed the cards and sold them at a high markup. He also built the processing machines, which he leased to customers. A fine business model. 

The equipment was described as an "Electrical Counting Machine".

It took nearly 80 years for data processing to move beyond punched cards, and a century to make them obsolete. 

The Hollerith cards became the 128-column IBM punched cards, which were the early basis for data storage, retrieval, and transfer. Hollerith invented the first automatic card-feed mechanism and the first keypunch machine.

The 1890 Tabulator was hard-wired for processing Census data. His 1906 Tabulator simplified rewiring for different jobs. His 1920s improvements supported prewiring and fast job changing.

I can testify that Hollerith's punched cards were used as computer input and output for almost a century. When I started my career as an economist at the Federal Reserve Board in 1964, we used cumbersome mechanical calculators that took up one-quarter of the desk space. When I left the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1969, we were using the cumbersome IBM 360 machines, still using punched cards as one form of input.

A short video on the Hollerith card system is here:

In 1911 four corporations, including Hollerith's firm, were merged into a fifth company, the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR). Under the presidency of Thomas J. Watson, in 1924, CTR was renamed International Business Machines Corporation (IBM).  By 1933, Hollerith had died and the subsidiary companies were incorporated into IBM.

Here's a biography of Hollerith, who earned a Ph.D. from Columbia University School of Mines in 1990, when he was 30, and by then had already created a business based on his punched-card system:

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