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Punch Card

Joseph Marie-Jacquard, Herman Hollerith
1801-1805, 1890

Punch cards were created by Joseph Marie-Jacquard between the years of 1801 and 1805, for use in the Jacquard loom. The cards were used to indicate to the machine which threads needed to be raised in order to create the desired weaved pattern.
The computer punch cards we know of today were invented by Herman Hollerith for the United States 1890 census. They were made for specific use with the Hollerith machine, a machine that was able to accurately read the cards and cut the time needed to calculate the census by a significant amount of time. Hollerith used his machine, officially named the Hollerith Electric Tabulating System, to further the Tabulating Machine company. It was the only company that made these machines. It was later combined with three other companies to become the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, all three of which the cards and machine could do. This conglomerate later changed its name to IBM.
After the punch cards success in the 1980 census punch cards were used for a multitude of other plans. It was used by the military in WW1 and in the corporate world to compile data and track inventory beginning in the early 1900s. In the 1940s they became more public: they were used in libraries, police departments, and even by the government for federal checks. Once the cards became more widely used, more people gained the insight to read them and the Hollerith machine was no longer a necessary part of the process. The dispersal of the cards into the public raised an entirely new issue of ownership and care. Because the cards were supposed to be read by machines, they had to remain in a condition that is machine readable. This led to the coined term “do not fold, spindle, or mutilate,” which became a cultural moment in history. It was a point when corporations used punch cards to enter the private sector and everyday citizens were forced to comply for the sake of convenience.

Tech Target Contributor. 2008. “History of the punch card.” WhatIs.com. https://whatis.techtarget.com/reference/History-of-the-punch-card.

IBM. n.d. “The IBM Punched Card.” IBM. Accessed December 20, 2021. https://www.ibm.com/ibm/history/ibm100/us/en/icons/punchcard/.

Lubar, Steven. n.d. “"Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate": A Cultural History of the Punch Card.” Brown Digital Repository. Accessed December 20, 2021. https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:788264/PDF/?embed=true.

The computer History Museum. n.d. “Pomology Horticulture Punched Card.” Computer History Museum. Accessed December 20, 2021. https://www.computerhistory.org/revolution/punched-cards/2/intro/12.

IBM. n.d. “The Punched Card Tabulator.” IBM. Accessed December 20, 2021. https://www.ibm.com/ibm/history/ibm100/us/en/icons/tabulator/.