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Punch card equipment in use, c. 1930
Credit: IBM Archives

Punch Card Processing

Punch cards accelerated the development of twentieth century commerce and industry. This technology, along with the large variety of machines that created, sorted, collated, printed, and reproduced punch cards, allowed organizations to efficiently manage thousands, or even millions, of records. Following Herman Hollerith's punch card equipment designed to process the 1890 US Census, the variety of punch card processing machines grew rapidly. By the mid-twentieth century, American, British and German machines could multiply, divide and even calculate square roots. Although slow compared to later electronic computers, scientists used punch card equipment in their research. Punch card equipment was gradually phased out in favor of records kept on high-speed devices such as magnetic tapes and disks.

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