<- Virtual Exhibitions in Informatics

Punch Card

Basile Bouchon's loom, 1725

The punched card predates computers considerably. As early as 1725 Basile Bouchon used perforated paperloop in a loom to establish the pattern to be reproduced on cloth, and in 1726 hisco-worker Jean-Baptiste Falcon improved on his design by using perforated paper cards attached to one another,which made it easier to quickly change the program. The Bouchon-Falcon loom was semi-automatic and required manual feed of theprogram.
Joseph Jacquard used punched cards in 1801 as a control device for the more automatic Jacquard looms, which met with great success.

Hollerith's electromechanical punch card tabulator, 1890

Such cards were also used as an input method for the primitive calculating machines of the late 19th century. The version by Herman Hollerith, patented on June 8, 1887 and used with mechanical tabulating machines in the 1890 U.S. Census, was a piece of cardboard about 90 mm by 215 mm, with round holes. This was the same size as the dollar bill of the time, so that storage cabinets designed for money could be used for his cards.

a replica of a punch card from the 1900 census

The early applications of punched cards all used specifically-designed card layouts. It wasn't until around 1928 that punched cards and machines were made "general purpose". In that year, punched cards were made a standard size, exactly 7-3/8 inch by 3-1/4inch (187.325 by 82.55 mm), reportedly corresponding to the US currency of the day, though some sources characterise this assertion as urban legend.

The IBM 80-column punching format, with rectangular holes,
eventually won out over the UNIVAC 90-character format, which used 45 columns (2 characters in each) of 12 round holes. IBM (Hollerith) punch cards are made of smooth stock, .007 of an inch thick. Punch cards were widely known as just IBM cards.

80-column punch card, used in an IBM 1130 assembler program in 1979

Herman Hollerith (1860-1929)

Herman Hollerith is widely regarded as the father of modern automatic computation. He chose the punched card as the basis for storing and processing information and he built the first punched-card tabulating and sorting machines as well as the first key punch, and he founded the company that was to become IBM. Hollerith's designs dominated the computing landscape for almost 100 years.

Related topics:
Punched tape