Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tabulating Machine

I have enjoyed reading the comments the last few days, and have been surprised to see how many of you have actually used a computer key punch machine.

Today's picture is of a tabulating machine. It was not really a computer, but more of a counter. In the late 1800's and early 1900's completing the census was becoming an intractable problem. To help with this, the Tabulating Machine was developed. Each person's Census data was "key punched" into a card. The tabulating machine had electromechanical relays that could in effect do the counting for the census office. The technology developed for punching and reading the cards was critical in the development of functioning computers.


  1. back in the 60's I used to chat with one of my friends whose job was to punch those cards. I never actually punched any cards myself, but when I first started playing with computers, we had to submit a batch file and wait overnight for the results. Made troubleshooting your program very time consuming and difficult to say the least. Once time, I called down to the "office" of the "mainframe" police and asked why I had printed all this paper. It was a stack of fanfold paper about waist high - they were not happy campers! My program had a serious bug that caused all the paper to be printed. I escaped with my hide but only barely - pun intended!

  2. My husband was in China on business in the 1980's. He went to a bank and saw that the tellers all had "computers," similar to what we would have here, that kept track of the transaction. However, then the teller would produce an abacus and double check her figures.

  3. You might have mentioned Herman Hollerith, the Census Bureau worker who came up with idea. Many people referred to the punch cards as Hollerith cards. Also, create a stack of punched cards (order counts) and let them fall to the floor. You will only do that once before marking the deck with a diagonal colored stripe so you can reassemble the deck without "reading" the cards should you have to.


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