Person: Hollerith, Herman
Herman Hollerith was the inventor of the punched card system which predated electronic computers.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- School was not very easy for Herman despite the fact that he was clever.
- Hollerith entered the City College of New York in 1875 and he became an engineering graduate of the Columbia School of Mines in 1879, obtaining a distinction in his final examinations.
- His undergraduate record had been outstanding and one of his teachers, Professor W P Trowbridge, was so impressed that he asked Hollerith to become his assistant.
- So after graduating Hollerith became an assistant to Trowbridge, first at Columbia University but later he joined the US Census Bureau as a statistician when Trowbridge was appointed Chief Special Agent to the Census Bureau.
- This appointment was very significant because it was in solving the problems of analysing the large amounts of data generated by the 1880 US census that Hollerith was led to look for ways of manipulating data mechanically.
- The idea in fact came from Dr John Shaw Billings who Hollerith came in contact with in his work for the US Census Bureau.
- In 1882 Hollerith joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he taught mechanical engineering.
- While he worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Hollerith began his first experiments.
- Hollerith realised that cards would provide a better solution.
- Hollerith did not enjoy teaching so he soon sought another job.
- In 1884 he obtain a post in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C. This was either good luck or a brilliant career move depending on how far sighted Hollerith was in seeing that he would be in the best possible position to make full use of skills learnt in the patent office in patenting his own inventions.
- In 1884 Hollerith applied for his first patent (he would receive more than 30 patents from the United States during his career and many overseas patents).
- Hollerith designed punches specially made for his system, the Hollerith Electric Tabulating System.
- Hollerith's system was first tested on tabulating mortality statistics in Baltimore, New Jersey in 1887 and again in New York City.
- Having won, Hollerith now had to have punches and counting devices manufactured.
- Speed was not the only benefit of using Hollerith's system.
- Although Hollerith had left the academic world, he clearly was still attracted to certain aspects of it, for he wrote up the details of his tabulating systems and submitted the work for a doctorate at the Columbia School of Mines.
- Hollerith was awarded his doctorate in 1890.
- The Hollerith system was clearly a great leap forward.
- Honours came to Hollerith from all sides for his outstanding invention.
- In 1896 Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company to exploit his inventions.
- Because Hollerith had a virtual monopoly he had set the price well beyond what it would have cost to count the 1900 census data by hand.
- The cost of using Hollerith's system in 1900 made them decide to develop their own system and, despite the short time and the difficulty of getting round Hollerith's patents, they were able to have more advanced machines ready in time for the 1910 census.
- Powers was now in a strong position and in 1911, after the census, he left the Census Bureau and formed the Powers Tabulating Machine Company which was now more than a match for Hollerith's Tabulating Machine Company.
- A merger with another company saw Hollerith's company become the Computer Tabulating Recording Company in 1911 but the new company largely was forced out of the market for counting machines.
- Hollerith served as a consulting engineer with the Computer Tabulating Recording Company until he retired in 1921.
- The Computer Tabulating Recording Company had recovered its leading role by 1920, due not to Hollerith but to Thomas J Watson who joined the company in 1918.
- Although Hollerith made a very significant contribution to the development of the modern electronic computer with his punched card technology not all his ideas were similar great successes.
- Hollerith died of a heart attack in 1929, eight years after retiring.
Born 29 February 1860, Buffalo, New York, USA. Died 17 November 1929, Washington D.C., USA.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Origin Usa, Statistics
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive