The basis of the computer was invented for use in the census? Yes. It was all the brainchild of Herman Hollerith, a New York statistician. He invented the device for the U.S. Census Bureau for use in the 1890 census. That is the census that was later destroyed by a fire and by the water used to quench the fire.
Determining the results of the 1880 census proved to be a monumental task, requiring eight years to complete. The Census Bureau knew that there had to be a better way and asked for bids from companies to improve the process.
Hollerith invented a tabulating machine to quickly count information that had been entered on punched cards that were the size of an American dollar bill at that time. (The dollar bill was later reduced in size but the so-called Hollerith cards remained at 3.25 by 7.375 inches.)
On January 8, 1889, Hollerith was issued U.S. Patent 395,782.
Data for Herman Hollerith's invention was counted by a machine that employed spring-loaded needles capable of reading whether or not a hole had been punched. An electric contact was made when a hole was recognized, which rang a bell and sent the data to a counter.
The 1890 tabulator was capable only of counting. Subsequent models, developed by Hollerith himself, were also able to add, which made the machines useful for accounting, warehousing, and shipping applications. Between 1902 and 1905, Hollerith also developed an automatic card feed and a method for reading cards in motion and settled on a standard card format.
Punch cards remained popular in computers through the 1970s. Hollerith also remained successful when he founded a company to build more tabulating equipment, called the Tabulating Machine Company. In 1911 four corporations, including Hollerith's firm, merged to form the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation. It was renamed in 1924 to International Business Machines Corporation (IBM).
The 1890 census tallied 63 million people. (The most recent count, in 2010, reached nearly 309 million.)
Computers are now very popular, although the Hollerith card has finally disappeared.
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