Herman Hollerith

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Herman Hollerith (February 29, 1860 – November 17, 1929) was an American statistician who developed a mechanical tabulator based on punched cards to rapidly tabulate statistics from millions of pieces of data. He was the founder of one of the companies that later merged and became IBM.

Contents

Personal life

Hollerith was born in Buffalo, New York, where he spent his early childhood. He 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 completed his Ph.D. in 1890 at Columbia University. He eventually moved to Washington, D.C., living in Georgetown, with a home on 29th Street and ultimately a factory for manufacturing his tabulating machines at 31st Street and the C&O Canal, where today there is a commemorative plaque placed by IBM.

Electronic tabulation of data

At the urging of John Shaw Billings[1], Hollerith developed a mechanism using electrical connections to trigger a counter, recording 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 and the data recorded. 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.[2] On January 8, 1889, Hollerith was issued U.S. Patent 395,782[3], 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 395,782 was granted on January 8, 1889.[4]

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