Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum


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"The forerunner of the IBM card was born when Herman Hollerith observed a railroad conductor punching tickets.  'One summer,' he was to write, 'I was traveling in the West and I had a ticket with what I think was called a punch photograph ... the conductor ... punched out a description of the individual, as light hair, dark eyes, large nose, etc.  So you see, I only made a punch photograph of each person.'  Each 'punch photograph' verified that the passenger occupying the seat was in fact the same who had originally presented the ticket.

Hollerith was himself an amateur photographer—while courting his wife he had taken hazy, romantic shots of their boating trips and picnics—and so the phrase 'punch photograph' appealed to him.  But the vital leap was the idea this was a photograph of several simple kinds of information—a digital photograph.  Hollerith would work out a means to compile the information on such 'punch photographs' on his early computers."

—Phil Patton. "Made in USA"

" Hollerith called the census a 'national punch photograph.' He made the cards the same size as the dollar bill in order to use existing storage files and other equipment used in banks.

Soon businesses from railroads to department stores adopted Hollerith punch cards to track customers and cargoes. In the 1890's, voting machines also began to use the technology. Praised as part of the good government efforts of the time they soon became common. The evolution of mechanical tabulating systems based on punch cards led to the IBM Corporation."

Phil Patton

"The ticket was called a punch photograph, and Hollerith recalled to biographer Geoffrey D. Austrian
that his inspiration was simply to make a punch photograph of each person for the census.

Geoffrey D. Austrian. Herman Hollerith: Forgotten Giant of Information Processing. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Hollerith "had previously invented improvements for train braking systems" and
the New York Central Railroad was an early customer of Hollerith's tabulating machines.

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