It took eight long years to tabulate the 1880 census. 1890's was expected to take longer. Frustrated by the pace, Herman Hollerith began designing a machine in 1881 that could automatically tabulate data using punch cards.

Inspired by the silk looms of Joseph-Marie Jacquard, which controlled warp and weft by a pattern of holes in a string of cards, Hollerith's machine was successful, and the 1890 census was tabulated in a single year. The company he founded would become part of IBM in 1924.

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Hollerith's original machine, which he patented, is at the Smithsonian.

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