Herman Hollerith Biography

(Father of modern automatic computation)

Birthday: February 29, 1860 (Pisces)

Born In: Buffalo

Widely recognized as one of the founding fathers of modern automatic computation, Herman Hollerith was an American statistician who created a mechanical tabulator that rapidly arranged millions of pieces of data into statistics. His designs for tabulating and sorting machines and the key punch became the standard for the information processing/computing industry for almost a century. His developments influenced the computing field for nearly an entire century, and his contributions to modern computing were not limited to just the tabulating machine and sorter. He also created the first key punch and automatic card-feed mechanism and even took the first steps toward programming when he added a wiring panel to his 1906 tabulating machine. As a result, the machine could complete different tasks without having to be completely rebuilt. This innovation is considered the foundation of today's information processing industry. His invention was the forerunner of the computer, a device which affects virtually every facet of modern life. In addition to being an accomplished and ingenious inventor, he also founded one of the companies that would later become IBM. He is still remembered as one of the founding fathers of modern programming, the father of information processing, and the world’s first statistical engineer.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 69


Spouse/Ex-: Beverley Talcott

father: Prof. Georg Hollerith

mother: Franciska

Inventors American Men

Died on: November 17, 1929

place of death: Washington, D.C.

City: Buffalo, New York

U.S. State: New Yorkers

discoveries/inventions: Tabulator, Punched Card

More Facts

education: Columbia University, City College of New York, Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

awards: Elliott Cresson Medal (1890)
World's Columbian Exposition - Bronze Medal (1892)
National Inventors Hall of Fame (1990)

Childhood & Early Life
He was born on February 29, 1860 in Buffalo, New York to German immigrants, Prof. George Hollerith and his wife, Franciska (Brunn) Hollerith.
He attended the City College of New York in 1875 for his early education and was later enrolled at the Columbia University School of Mines.
At the university, he took the standard course of study which required both classes and practical work. He also visited local industries, such as metallurgical and machine shops, in order to understand how they functioned.
As an engineering student, he studied chemistry, physics, and geometry, as well as courses in surveying and graphics. In 1879, he graduated with distinction from the university with an "Engineer of Mines" degree.
He later obtained his doctorate degree from the Columbia University, although some historians say it was an honorary degree.
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In 1880, he got his first job at the U.S. Census Bureau as an assistant to his former teacher, William Petit Trowbridge. He met John S. Billings, director of the Census Bureau’s division of vital statistics, who first suggested the idea of developing a mechanical means to count the vast amount of raw data generated in their work.
His brief time at the Census Bureau and discussions with Billings, got him thinking that a machine like an automatic weaving device might be a replacement for hand counting. The machine could use punched cards for storing data and would reduce a considerable amount of time for processing the data.
In 1882, he became an instructor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). But after a while, he left it and went to St. Louis, Missouri, where he experimented with and designed an electrically activated brake system for railroads.
In 1884, he got a job with the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C., where he remained until 1890.
Meanwhile, he developed a mechanism for recording information and coding data numerically. He discovered that, when punched in specific locations on a card, numbers could be used to record and sort data. He constructed his machines for the US Census Bureau, which used them to arrange data for the 1890 census.
His electric counting machines appreciably reduced tabulation time for the 1890 census and the complete data sets were completed within a considerably shorter period, compared to the 1880 census which took eight years.
His tabulating machines were also used in 1891 for censuses of Canada, Norway, and Austria. On the other hand, railroad companies used them to calculate fare information.
In 1896, he founded his own business, the ‘Tabulation Machine Company’. The census bureaus and insurance companies from all over the world leased and purchased his equipment to perform their own collation of data.
The existing system relied on his innovating card-feed mechanism and key punch but could only read specific census cards. In 1906, he improved his tabulating machine by adding a plugboard control panel. This allowed the machine to do other tasks without being rebuilt.
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In 1911, he merged his company with three others to create the Computing Tabulating Recording Company (CTR). Later, the company was renamed to ‘International Business Machines Corporation’ (IBM), by then-president Thomas J. Watson.
In 1921, he retired from his post of consulting engineer in the organization. Eventually, he moved to his farm in rural Maryland, where he spent the rest of his life raising Guernsey cattle.
Major Works
He is best known for the invention of a mechanical tabulator using punched cards where data was stored to tabulate statistics. His designs for tabulating and sorting machines and the key punch became standard for the information processing/computing industry for almost a century.
He was the sole founder of the company, ‘Tabulating Machine Company’, which was later merged with others to form one of the most influential corporations of the computer age, IBM.
Awards & Achievements
In 1890, he received the ‘Elliott Cresson Medal’ from the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia for the outstanding invention of the year.
In 1892, he was awarded the ‘Bronze Medal’ at the World's Columbian Exposition for his achievements.
In 1990, he was inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his invention of the tabulating machine.
Personal Life & Legacy
He dated Kate Sherman Billings, daughter of Dr. John Shaw Billings for a brief period. He met Kate at the Census Bureau, where he used to work, after completing his graduation.
On September 15, 1890, he married Lucia Beverly Talcott. They were blessed with six children: Lucia, Nannie, Virginia, Herman, Richard, and Charles.
He died on 17 November 1929, in Washington, D.C., at the age of 69, due to heart failure.

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