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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.
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.