Who was Herman Hollerith?  Why is he important?

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cburr eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Herman Hollerith lived from 1860 to 1929.  Of German heritage, he was born in Buffalo, NY, and studied mining engineering – ultimately receiving his PhD from Columbia in 1890.  He later went to work at the US Census Office.

His fame comes from his work in the mechanical tabulation of large amounts of data in order to generate statistics.  Specifically, he recorded numbers by punching a card using established rows and columns.  The cards were then counted mechanically using electromagnets. To do this, he invented a keypunch machine, an automatic card-feeding machine, and a tabulator. 

He developed a machine for the Census which enabled them to tabulate the 1890 Census in only one year – compared to the eight years it took to process the 1880 Census.  The machine he developed to do this was designed solely to deal with the Census.

In 1896 he started his own business, the Tabulating Machine Company.  In 1906 the company released a machine with a wiring panel that allowed it to be used for various tasks without having to be rebuilt.  Hollerith’s work formed the foundation for the modern information processing industry.  In 1924, with Thomas Watson as President, Hollerith’s company was renamed IBM.