Early business machines – Early business machines
Early business machines – Throughout the 19th century, business machines were coming into common use. Calculators became available as a tool of commerce in 1820 (see the earlier section Digital calculators), and in 1874 the Remington Arms Company, Inc., sold the first commercially viable typewriter. Other machines were invented for other specific business tasks. None of these machines was a computer, but they did advance the state of practical mechanical knowledge—knowledge that would be used in computers later.
One of these machines was invented in response to a sort of constitutional crisis in the United States: the census tabulator.
Early business machines – Herman Hollerith’s census tabulator
Early business machines – The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the population be performed every 10 years. The first attempt at any mechanization of the census was in 1870, when statistical data were transcribed onto a rolling paper tape displayed through a small slotted window. As the size of America’s population exploded in the 19th century and the number of census questions expanded, the urgency of further mechanization became increasingly clear.
Early business machines – After graduating from the Columbia University School of Mines, New York City, in 1879, Herman Hollerith obtained his first job with one of his former professors, William P. Trowbridge, who had received a commission as a special agent for the 1880 census. It was while employed at the Census Office that Hollerith first saw the pressing need for automating the tabulation of statistical data.
Early business machines – Over the next 10 years Hollerith refined his ideas, obtaining his first patent in 1884 for a machine to punch and count cards. He then organized the health records for Baltimore, Maryland, for New York City, and for the state of New Jersey—all in preparation for winning the contract to tabulate the 1890 U.S. Census. The success of the U.S. census opened European governments to Hollerith’s machines. Most notably, a contract with the Russian government, signed on December 15, 1896, may have induced him to incorporate as the Tabulating Machine Company on December 5, 1896.
Early business machines – Other early business machine companies
Early business machines – Improvements in calculators continued: by the 1880s they could add in the accumulation of partial results, store past results, and print. Then, in 1892, William Seward Burroughs, who along with two other St. Louis, Missouri, businessmen had started the American Arithmometer Company in 1886 in order to build adding machines, obtained a patent for one of the first truly practical and commercially successful calculators. Burroughs died in 1898, and his company was reorganized as the Burroughs Adding Machine Company in Detroit, Michigan, in 1905.
All the calculators—and virtually all the information-processing devices—sold at this time were designed for commercial purposes, not scientific research. By the turn of the century, commercial calculating devices were in common use, as were other special-purpose machines such as one that generated serial numbers for banknotes. As a result, many of the business machine companies in the United States were doing well, including Hollerith’s Tabulating Machine Company.
Early business machines – In 1911 several of these companies combined to form the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, or CTR. In 1914 Thomas J. Watson, Sr., left his sales manager position at the National Cash Register Company to become president of CTR, and 10 years later CTR changed its name to International Business Machines Corporation, or IBM. In the second half of the century, IBM would become the giant of the world computer industry, but such commercial gains did not take place until enormous progress had been made in the theoretical understanding of the modern computer during the remarkable decades of the 1930s and ’40s. (This progress is described in the next section, Invention of the modern computer.)