Vintage tech

Vintage tech: Punch cards

Vintage TechThis month’s Vintage Tech features an object that we’re sure still gives many CIO’s nightmares, and others fond nostalgia. Used for data input, processing, and storage, the punch card, although the most efficient means on offer at the time, was arduous to use and fraught with errors. However, for the first half of the 20th Century, it was a cornerstone of computing, until stronger alternatives emerged around the 1960s.

Stemming from Herman Hollerith’s early design in the 1890s, IBM – who would later absorb Hollerith’s Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company – became the most famed proponent of the punch, developing a range of machines for creating and organising punch cards.

Requiring manual input, a single character input mistake would mean the user needed to restart the whole process of data entry. The cards were also easily damaged, and the slogan “Do not fold, spindle or mutilate,” that was printed on cards became an iconic cultural symbol.

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