History of the Internet

History of the Internet


Chapter 1
Prehistory of the Internet: 1843 – 1956

On July 1, two thousand clerks begin processing the 1890 U.S. census, assisted by engineer Herman Hollerith's mechanized tabulating system. This event -- the most extensive information-processing effort ever undertaken -- launches the creation of the office-machine and paves the way for the founding of IBM (International Business Machines).

Illustration of a man operating Hollerith's Tabulating Machine, which was used to calculate the 1890 Census (CORBIS/Bettmann).

Working at the Bureau of the Census during the long, tedious, manual processing of the 1880 census, Hollerith recognized the need for mechanization. He developed the idea of recording each person's information (age, sex, and ethnicity) as a pattern of punched holes on a card. An electromechanical machine, of his design, could tabulate the information from the card automatically.

In 1888 Hollerith's system is chosen for the 1890 census tabulation. On August 16, 1890, the system yields a total population of 62,622,250 -- a disappointingly low figure, according to a public that had been led to expect at least 75,000,000. The media paint a disparaging picture of Hollerith's machines, but his confidence never wavers.

The tabulation continues, with one hundred machines operated by eighty clerks who can each process about one thousand cards an hour. Two and a half years later, the census processing is complete. Hollerith's system shaves more than four years off the previous census processing and saves the government an estimated $5 million.

The Hollerith Electric Tabulating System is used again in the 1900 census, but by 1905 Hollerith's interests have gravitated toward commercial ventures. He tailors his machines for processing information in business settings, and by 1911 he runs a prosperous punched-card office-machine company. That year, his health failing, Hollerith sells the business to a holding...

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