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Herman hollerith: data processing pioneer

eing 19 years of age and a bachelor when he arrived in Washington to begin his new job, Hollerith became active in Georgetown social circles. He met Dr. John Shaw Billings at the Billings home one Sunday evening in 1880 through a supper invitation from Billings’ daughter. Although not trained as such, Billings was an cstablishcd expert in analyzing vital statistics, and the Census Bureau had appointed him Director of Vital Statistics for the 1880 census.2 That first encounter was the occlision for the famous but, ambiguously interpreted Billings-to-Hollerith transfer of the idea for a punched card machine to tabulate U. S. Census data. Interpreta- tions of Billings’ influence vary from “suggested the need for” to “suggested using cards with the description of the individual shown by notches in the edge of the card and a device something like a type distributing ma- chine.”

The material published in this sketch is extracted and edited from John Blodgett’s thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the Degree of Master of Science in Information Science at Drexel Insti-tute of Technology School of Lihrary Science, Phila., Pa., June, 1968. The original 234 pp. typescript is available on loan from the Drexel Library. Blodgett’s work began as a term paper and grew into a thesis because he gained access to hitherto withheld Hollerith family resourccs and was diligent enough to tap publicly available resources not previously consulted--to learn more of Hollerith’s personal story and to elucidate the controversial record of John Shaw Billing’s part in the development of the first punched card sorter.


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I'm an award-winning artist who's been innovating in Web3 since 2019. Prior to that I was a program manager at Twitter and consultant at Google, where I specialized in operationalizing service design and customer experience. Read more