Issue 12-7-14 Website - page 11

Bet You’veNever Heard of HermanHollerith
I just returned fromCalifornia
where I spentThanksgivingwith
mysonandhis family. “SoMom,
let’s go over to the Computer
History Museum. They have a
Babbage Machine.” “Isn’t that
the English guy who developed
a type of computer but he was
never given credit for his inno-
vations?” Sure enough, the mu-
seumhasaworkingmodel of the
In1821, CharlesBabbagewas
reading throughpages ofmathe-
tratedby the errors.At that time,
bookswere typeset byhand, and
itwaseasy tomakemistakeswith
numbers. Ifyou typesetwords,an
editorcan readaproofof thepage
and make corrections, but with
mathematical tables, unless you
do the calculations, there is no
way toknow if there isamistake.
Babbage envisioned amachine
thatwoulddo thecalculations,and
then print the results andmake a
plaster cast that could be used to
makeaprintingplate. Hemadea
smallworkingcomponent that he
built a completemachine.
A hundred and fifty years
later the London ScienceMuse-
um built Babbage’s Difference
Machine #2. It took 17 years
to complete. It has 8,000 parts,
and weighs 5 tons. A few years
later a second model was built
and was sent to the Computer
History Museum in Mountain
View, California. It is a sight to
behold, as the crank is wound
andall the leversandgearsmove
and the numbered pieces move
into place. I have to admit, that
my recollection of polynomials
is pretty slim. But while reading
aboutBabbage, IdiscoveredAda
only legitimatedaughter.Shemet
the potential of the Difference
Machine. Her mathematical
mind, “interpreted” themachine
and she is credited by some, as
writing the first algorithm to be
carried out by amachine. She is
alsodescribedas theworld’sfirst
computer programmer.
Around the corner from the
Babbage Difference Machine,
is an exhibit about another early
computer designed by Herman
I had never heard
of. The Hollerith
oped to process the
datafrom theUnited
mare. The tenth
Federal Censuswas
held in1880. It took
eightyears tocollate
the information and
scheduled in 1890.
In1888, a contest
was held to find a
method of tabulat-
ing some of the in-
formation from the 1880 census.
successful and was used for the
1890 Census. In fact, Hollerith
machines were used into the
1950s when they were replaced
with computers.
The Hollerith machine read
punched cards, that were pre-
paredby census clerkswhoused
pantographmachines to transfer
the information from the census
forms to the punched cards. A
clerk could prepare 500 cards a
day. Then one by one the cards
were placed between two plates
and smallmetal pinswould pass
through the holes into a layer of
mercury making an electrical
connection which in turn turned
the dials on the machine. After
the card was read, it was sort-
ed into a file. An experienced
tabulator could process 80 cards
an hour.
Sources disagree about how
long it took to tabulate all the
data from the 1890 census with
the Hollerith Machine, but in
only sixweeks, theywereable to
report that the total populationof
Some say it was months and
others say itwas three years, but
it certainlywasn’t theeightyears
needed for the 1880 census. It
saved thegovernment$5million.
Hollerith received a Doctorate
fromColumbiaUniversity forhis
work.Hismachineswereused to
collect censusdata inmanyother
In 1911, Hollerith joined with
several other companies and
formed the Computing-Tabulat-
ing-Recording Company (CTR)
which changed its name to the
Corporation (IBM) in 1924.
Unfortunately, asmanyof you
know,whohavegone to the1890
census for family genealogical
information, the original data
sheets were destroyed. After the
data was transferred to the Hol-
lerithmachinesand tabulated, all
theoriginal sheetswereboxedup
and put into storage.
In 1921, therewas a fire in the
storage facility and about 15%
of the records were damaged
by smoke, fire, and water. (It is
generally reported that all of the
records were destroyed by the
fire, but that is not correct. Only
a small portionwere actuallyde-
stroyed by the fire.) The records
wereuniquebecause they record-
ed information fromeach family,
but no one seemed to caremuch
about saving thedamagedpapers.
In December 1932, the chief
Clerk of the Bureau of Cen-
sus ordered the records to be
destroyed. The Librarian of
Congress unfortunately did not
identify the records as having
anyhistorical importance, so the
original recordswere lost. Later,
a small handful of records were
discoveredwhich included6,160
family sheets.
At the time of the 1921 fire
there was no Federal Archives,
but the fire brought attention to
the lack of adequate storage for
important papers. In fact, some-
one noted that even the original
copy of theDeclaration of Inde-
pendence and the Constitution,
were inperilduring thefire.They
escaped damage only because
theywerestoredon thesixthfloor
of the building that housed the
Census records. Ironically, just
one day before Congress autho-
rized the destructionof the 1890
census papers, PresidentHerbert
Hoover, laid the cornerstone for
TheBabbage engine.
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