Hollerith Machine

What Does Hollerith Machine Mean?

A Hollerith machine is a specific type of electromechanical design that served as an information-processing resource throughout the early 20th century. The machine used a system of electrical and mechanical signals, and a set of wires positioned over pools of mercury, to incrementally count data on paper punch cards.


A Hollerith machine is also known as a tabulating machine or Hollerith tabulator.

Techopedia Explains Hollerith Machine

Herman Hollerith developed the tabulating machine in the late 1800s, with a patent issued in 1889. He started the Tabulating Machine Company in 1911.

The Hollerith machine used design principles similar to those of earlier technologies such as Jacquard looms. The idea is that by aligning punched holes in a punch card, the machine could process sets of punch cards to count up instances of different kinds of data. One of the biggest users of the Hollerith machine was in the U.S. Census – workers would record things like age, gender, and other information on punch cards and the machine would read them.

Hollerith tabulating machines were widely used throughout the first half of the 20th century, up to the 1940s and early 1950s. As newer digital designs appeared on the horizon, these machines were eventually phased out.


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Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.