One of the most famous statisticians, particularly in the history of
computer development, is Herman Hollerith, the inventor of a "punch-card
tabulation machine" that revolutionized the speed with which reams
of data could be processed.
Hollerith was a key player in the computer revolution of the 20th century.
In 1896, on the strength of his punched-card invention, Hollerith founded
the Tabulating Machine Company, which was the forerunner of the Computer
Tabulating Recording Company-later International Business Machines Corporation,
The son of German immigrants, Hollerith is said initially to have had
little aptitude for school-spelling, in particular, was his downfall.
However, after private tutoring, he was able to enroll in the City College
of New York at the age of 15; he graduated from the Columbia School of
Mines with distinction at 19.
Hollerith first worked at the U.S. Census bureau as part of the data-collecting
efforts of the 1880 census. He next taught mechanical engineering at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technolo-gy, then worked for the U.S. Patent
Office. He was awarded many patents over his career, filing for his first
patent in 1884. His idea for using punched cards to read data is said
to have been inspired by his watching railroad officials punch passengers'
train tickets. The device Hollerith developed could read data via the
holes in punched cards; a wire would pass through the holes into a cup
of mercury beneath the card, thus creating an electrical circuit. This
process triggered counters and sorting bins, enabling the data to be tabulated.
Hollerith's invention allowed the official 1890 population count to
be tallied in six months; it is estimated to have shaved $5 million off
the cost of the census and saved two years' tabulation time.