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The History of Automation: The Hollerith Tabulating Machine

January 8th, 1889

There have been many examples of early computers, but one of the earliest devices to use an early form of programmable logic was the Hollerith Tabulating Machine, which was designed to aid in tabulating the 1890 census results. This very early computer used cards with punched holes, and a wire passed through them to a cup of mercury. The opening and closing of the circuit represented an early binary logic. In 1924, Hollerith’s Tabulating Machine Co., and two other firms were consolidated into International Business Machines.
We now know this company as IBM.

Early automation relied on these punch cards for many machines that predate even the punch computer. The textile industry was one of the first to embrace automation, as punch cards could be used to control textile looms. Punch cards were also used at fairgrounds for music machines, and in churches for organs. A roll of punched tape represented a novel way to program and automate musical devices, as seen here with this century old fairground organ:

IBM developed their Hollerith cards well into the 1950s, and they could be used to store data, enter data, and do processing tasks on industrial computers. This medium is mostly obsolete now, though there are some limited legacy systems and specialized systems that still use punch cards.

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