Herman Hollerith


Herman Hollerith (1860-1929) was an American inventor and statistician who is widely regarded as the father of modern machine data processing. He developed the electro-mechanical punched card tabulation machine, which significantly improved data processing efficiency for the 1890 United States Census. Hollerith later established the Tabulating Machine Company, which eventually became a part of IBM.


The phonetic pronunciation of “Herman Hollerith” is: /ˈhɜrmən ˈhɑlərɪθ/

Key Takeaways

  1. Herman Hollerith was an American inventor and statistician who developed the punched card tabulating machine, a revolutionary data processing tool.
  2. Hollerith’s invention was a key factor in the creation of the modern information age, significantly reducing the time needed for processing vast amounts of data and making it possible to handle large-scale statistical problems efficiently.
  3. In 1896, Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company, which later became a major part of International Business Machines (IBM), one of the world’s most successful technology companies.


Herman Hollerith is an important figure in the field of technology due to his significant contributions to data processing and computing.

As a U.S.

statistician, inventor, and entrepreneur, Hollerith invented the electromechanical punched card tabulating machine, which greatly improved data processing speeds and efficiency, especially during the 1890 United States Census.

His invention laid the groundwork for the development of modern computing systems and the establishment of International Business Machines (IBM), one of the most influential technology companies in history.

Thus, Herman Hollerith’s legacy is crucial to understanding the foundations of computing and data processing advancements that drive today’s technology.


Herman Hollerith is a significant figure in the history of technology, particularly in the field of data processing and statistical analysis. His legacy can be traced back to the end of the 19th century, with the invention of an electromechanical device called the Hollerith Tabulating Machine. This ingenious contraption dramatically revolutionized the process of data manipulation and laid the groundwork for early computing systems.

The Hollerith Tabulating Machine’s primary purpose was to efficiently manage vast amounts of information—which was especially crucial for tasks like conducting census analysis, analyzing statistical data, and maintaining large databases. The Hollerith Tabulating Machine made use of punched cards to store and process data, which allowed for the rapid counting, sorting, and tabulation of information. The punched cards represented various categories of data and were fed into the machine to be read by a series of electrical contacts.

Each card’s specific combination of punched holes enabled the machine to classify and organize the data with incredible speed and accuracy. Herman Hollerith’s innovative creation significantly accelerated tasks that had been traditionally done by hand, ultimately leading to the creation of IBM as a significant player in the technology sector. Hollerith’s significant impact in data processing technology directly influenced the evolution of early computing systems and established crucial foundations for the development of modern data management applications.

Examples of Herman Hollerith

1890 U.S. Census: Herman Hollerith’s most famous real-world application of his technology was in the processing of data for the 1890 U.S. Census. His invention, the Hollerith Electric Tabulating System, used punch cards to automate the process of tabulating and analyzing the vast amount of data collected in the census. The system drastically reduced the time it took to process the census data from several years to just a few months.

New York Central Railroad: In 1896, Hollerith’s Electric Tabulating System was used by the New York Central Railroad to keep track of their freight operations. The system allowed the railroad to quickly and efficiently process and analyze data related to ticket sales, scheduling, and payroll management. It helped the company significantly streamline its operations and proved that the technology had potential for commercial applications beyond government functions.

Founding of IBM: Herman Hollerith’s tabulating machine business eventually grew into the world-renowned technology company, International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). In 1911, Hollerith’s company merged with three other businesses to form the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR). Under the leadership of Thomas J. Watson, CTR was renamed International Business Machines (IBM) in

IBM has since grown into one of the most influential and innovative technology companies globally, with a history of introducing groundbreaking computer systems, software, and services.

Herman Hollerith FAQ

Who is Herman Hollerith?

Herman Hollerith was an American statistician and inventor who developed a mechanical tabulating machine to assist in processing data for the 1890 United States Census. His invention laid the foundation for the modern computing era, and he is considered one of the founding fathers of information technology.

What did Herman Hollerith invent?

Herman Hollerith invented the mechanical tabulating machine, which used punched cards to store and process data. This innovation revolutionized data processing and provided the basis for IBM’s early computing systems.

When was Herman Hollerith born and when did he die?

He was born on February 29, 1860, and he died on November 17, 1929.

How did Herman Hollerith’s invention change data processing?

Before Hollerith’s invention, data processing was primarily done by hand, making it a slow and error-prone process. His mechanical tabulating machine not only sped up data processing but also reduced errors and allowed for much larger datasets to be analyzed efficiently. It paved the way for the development of modern computing systems and data management technologies.

What is the connection between Herman Hollerith and IBM?

In 1896, Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company to commercialize his inventions. This company was later consolidated with other businesses to form the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR) in 1911. CTR was eventually renamed International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in 1924.

Related Technology Terms

  • Punched card tabulating machine
  • IBM (International Business Machines Corporation)
  • 1890 United States Census
  • Tabulating Machine Company
  • Data processing

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