Herman Hollerith, American inventor, born February 29, 1860 in Buffalo, New York, and educated at Columbia University, devised a system of encoding data on cards through a series of punched holes. This system proved useful in statistical work and was important in the development of the digital computer. Hollerith's machine, used in the 1890 U.S. census, "read" the cards by passing them through electrical contacts. Closed circuits, which indicated hole positions, could then be selected and counted. His Tabulating Machine Company (1896) was a predecessor to the International Business Machines Corporation.
|Hollerith at 20 years of age|
In 1896, Hollerith formed the Tabulating Machine Company, opening a shop in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC. He provided machines for the 1900 census count, but had greatly raised his leasing prices. Hollerith, secure in his monopoly over the technology, knew that the Census Office would have to pay whatever he demanded. It did, but when the office became the permanent Census Bureau in 1902, it began to explore other options. Barely skirting patent restrictions, Census Bureau employees were able to create their own tabulating machine, more advanced than Hollerith's, in time for the 1910 census. Census Bureau technician James Powers was able to secure the patent for this machine, and he started his own machine tabulation company in 1911.
Although Hollerith worked with the company he founded as a consulting engineer until his retirement in 1921, he became less and less involved in day-to-day operations after Watson came on board. Hollerith retired to his farm in rural Maryland, where he spent the rest of his life raising Guernsey cattle. He died of a heart attack in 1929.
As for the Computer Tabulating Recording Company, in 1924, the resurgent enterprise changed its name to the International Business Machines Corporation, or IBM.