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Hollerith Census Machine
Replica manufactured by Roberto Guatelli for The Computer Museum.
|Date of first manufacture||about 1890 - (replica - 1981)
|Number produced ||? - (replica - 1)
|Estimated price or cost||-
|location in museum ||-
|donor ||Digital Equipment Corp.
Contents of this page:
Electrically driven card reader and 40 dial accumulators,
with provision for signal to be sent to open a door in the sorter.
The card reader was an array of spring loaded pins that would
individually sense a potentially punched hole by passing through
the hole, into a small pool of mercury, completing an electrical circuit.
The machine could be wired to use that individual electric current
to increment one of the 40 dial accumulators, and/or open the door of
one of the sorter pockets.
The processed (read) card could be easily, reliably placed in
the automatically opened door.
The sorter mentioned above provided for selection of cards for further types
of counting and analysis in further passes of the cards through
the system. An example could be sorting in pass 1 could be by
country of origin, then on pass 2, the system could count
those of each country of origin by state of current residence.
This provides a great deal of flexibility in processing and analysis.
There is a question about the electrical current that was used to power
this machine. Carbon/zinc primary batteries were commercially available,
and Mr. Edison's electric light and power systems were becoming available
(in some cities). Both were direct current. Which was in use? What voltage?
e-mail from Yellow Airplane
who suggests this link to U.S. Census Bureau.
A discussion of
Herman Hollerith and sorting
in general by Donald Knuth
There are no known original Hollerith census machines. This machine is a replica.
Hollerith had earlier considered using wide paper tape, with many records per
length of tape, but the potential problems of tape damage, and difficulty of
finding particular records, and well as inability to sort on particular characteristics
discouraged further consideration of the paper tape idea. The punched cards of the
Jacquard loom operation promised better operation. (The cards of the Jacquard loom
were physically connected to insure correct serial operation. Hollerith cards
were not physically connected.)
The story that the Hollerith card was the identical size as the then current
U.S. dollar to provide an easy source of storage drawers seems correct.
An early Hollerith card had 24 columns and 12 rows of possible round holes. The
was column count was later increased to 80 columns of narrower rectangular holes.
The Hollerith Census Machines were a "second generation" of successful machines
used in 1887 to tabulate mortality statistics in New Jersey and New York City.
(The U.S. Census Bureau bought UNIVAC 1, serial # 1. One of a series replacements
for the 1890s Hollerith machines.)
----- Original Message -----
From: "Len Shustek"
Subject: Re: Univac 1 SN 001 plaque
> I'm chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Computer History Museum,
> and I echo John Toole's and Grant Saviers' interest in collaborating
> with you, especially insofar as the history of the Census Bureau
> overlaps the history of computing.
> One thing that puzzles me, though, is how the Census Bureau can only
> be celebrating it's 100th anniversary if we've been doing the census
> since 1790. Even the Bureau's web site page on their own history
> (http://www.census.gov/acsd/www/history.html) talks about activity
> in the 1800's, and doesn't mention anything significant happening
> in 1902. From the perspective on computer history,
> the important dates are 1890 (for the introduction of the Hollerith
> machine, leading to IBM), and 1950 (for the use of the Univac).
> Is there a better place to look for the history of the Bureau?
> Len Shustek
Hi Len. Thank you for your welcome reply.
You are correct that there have been national population censuses taken
since 1790 and every ten years thereafter. However, that first census was
undertaken under the auspices of the State Department (headed at the time by
Thomas Jefferson), and conducted by U.S. Marhsals.
Subsequent censuses were conducted under the auspices of the State
Department, the Department of the Interior, and the Commerce Department. It
was not until March 6, 1902, that legislation was passed to create a Census
Bureau, a full-time, year round agency. Prior to that, it had been the
Census Office and was located in several different places.
Further, it was not until July 1, 1902, that the U.S. Census Bureau
literally opened its front doors. In fact, on or about July 1, 2002, there
will be additional festivities taking place in Suitland.
I hope you and your colleagues will be able to attend. I am very excited
about the prospect of working together on this, and will present the
information you and your colleagues from the Computer History Museum have
As to a better place to look for information about the Bureau's history,
there are several publications available including one written by
ex-director, A. Ross Eckler, called "The Bureau of the Census."
Plus, I am about to complete a Centennial Planner that documents much of the
Bureau's history and technological achievements. It includes anecdotal
information, a timeline, and historical photos. I'll see to it that you all
I am scheduled to meet with the Census Bureau's Centennial Committee on
Monday afternoon, and feel certain that this news will be greeted with a
most positive reaction.
Thank you again, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
George Selby, Manager
Marketing Services Office
U.S. Census Bureau
4700 Silver Hill Road
Suitland, Maryland 20746
- Replica commissioned by Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC)
E-Mail to Dag Spicer from Gwen Bell May 11, 2000
We got permission from IBM to use Guatelli and DEC paid for
the replica. (That was at a time that the division between DEC and the
Museum was not clear.) When the division came, then we ended up with
While Guatelli was an independent businessman probably 75% of his
income came from IBM. DEC could not take over this role and IBM had made it
possible for Guatelli to work for clients like the Government of
Italy. Fortunately they gave their permission. Gwen
Yes, the donor was DEC. But that was a time when the line
between the Museum and DEC did not exist. Since the Museum
was a part of DEC that was meant to spin off, then the object can
simply say "manufactured by Roberto Guatelli for The Computer
Museum." That is totally true, (and probably meaningless to
most folks.) But IBM cannot object.
The bottom line is that this is great to have in
terms of telling the story of the history of computers.
Close examination of this replica shows that much internal wiring
was not replicated.
In June 2017, Carl Claunch examined an original machine in the
Endicott History and Heritage Center
that there was a (not removable) plugboard in the back of the machine
which allowed wiring of individual card reader contacts to individual counters.
It is quite possible that this same plugboard could be wired to
open a selected sorter door.
Interesting Web Sites
- from Wikipedia
Herman Hollerith and
Hollerith patent, on one of
Gordon Bell's web pages
- Computing People in History:
Volunteer Information Exchange Cumulative Index,
Hollerith - 1890 Census - "Rough Count",
Hollerith and His Machines, 1895-1907,
Hollerith and the Punched Photograph,
The Other Punched Card Company, and,
Early Hollerith Equipment,
"Sense Switches" on the Hollerith Tabulator,
Hollerith's Early Customers,
Hollerith Tabulator Keyboard,
from Pamela McCorduck March 17,2001
Guatelli [the builder of this replica] was fascinated by da Vinci's
machines (or rather, the plans for them) and built a few--the bicycle, a
kind of flying machine, some other objects. This was in the thirties, and
when they went on exhibit, Mussolini was so pleased with this great example
of Italian engineering heritage that he decided to fund a traveling exhibit
to impress his gallant Axis allies in Japan, which is how Guatelli and his
models went to Japan.
The war suddenly intervened, and Guatelli couldn't get back to Italy, much
less anyplace else. He stayed in Japan until war's end, and then somehow
made the acquaintance of T. J. Watson, Sr., who recognized his genius for
building, and commissioned him to do some replicas of very early
computation machines. Watson was instrumental in bringing Guatelli to the
U.S., where Guatelli set up a small workshop on Lafayette Street in NYC,
where he built many things for IBM.
He really was superb at what he did.
from Jim Strickland
also from Jim Strickland
Roberto Guatelli - Who Was that Guy?
We don't have many replicas in CHM and the ones
that we have are very good and they help tell the
computing history story. One that really makes its
gallery is the Hollerith tabulator and sorter replica,
the icon of the punched card gallery. It was made by
Roberto Guatelli. Recently, I came to realize that the
same man made the Pascaline replica and the
Babbage Difference Engine No. 1 replica. both in
the calculator gallery. So who was that guy Guatelli
and how did he come to make those wonderful
It's a fascinating story.
Roberto Guatelli was born in 1904 and educated as
an engineer. Early in his career he became
interested in the machines of Leonardo da Vinci or
rather he became fascinated with da Vinci's
drawings of machines. Guatelli lived in Milan where
Leonardo had done much of his work. In the early
30's he began to build models or replicas from da
Vinci's drawings -- a bicycle. a kind of flying
machine, some other objects. When they went on
exhibit, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was so
pleased with this great example of Italy's
engineering heritage that he decided to fund a
traveling exhibition to impress the world. Guatelli
and his exhibition were in the US when World War II
broke out. As an Italian, the US declared him to be
an enemy of the US. Traveling to Italy was too
dangerous at that time, so he was deported to
Italy and Japan were part of the Axis Powers but
Japan reacted with outrage to the surrender of Italy
to the Allied forces in September 1943. Italian
citizens residing in Japan were rounded up and
asked whether they were loyal to the King of Savoy,
who had dishonored Japan by surrendering to the
enemy, or to Mussolini and the newly created
"Repubblica Sociale Italians", which vowed to
continue fighting alongside the Nazis. Guatelli and
others who sided with the King were interned in
concentration camps and detained in dismal
conditions until the end of the war. His models were
destroyed when the warehouse where they were
stored was bombed.
After the war, Guatelli began rebuilding his models.
In 1947 he had an exhibition at the Ford museum in
Dearborn, Michigan. Eleanor Roosevelt, who was
visiting the museum introduced Guatelli to Thomas
Watson Sr. who was also visiting. Thomas Watson
recognized Guatelli's genius and hired him in 1951
to rebuild more of his models for IBM which then
toured them as a corporate sponsored exhibition.
(The exhibit, now 16 models. still tours and is
currently being shown at The Yager Museum of Art
and Culture at Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY.)
Guatelli worked for IBM until 1961. He had a
workshop in the basement of IBM's World
Headquarters at 590 Madison Avenue. In 1962, he
left IBM and opened a small workshop on Lafayette
Street in New York City. In 1964, his stepson Joseph
Mirabella joined the firm.
Dr. Guatelli demonstrating one of his models
A machanical version of today 's massive hydro-electric
plants is the da Vinci grinding mill
shown above. A set of grinding machines, seen
at right, was placed on each bank of a swiftly
moving stream. Power was furnished b a series
of water wheels, shown at left, located in midstream
and connected to the grinding weights
by a system of shafts and gears.
Watson owned an original Pascaline, the 17`°
century adding machine invented by Blaise Pascal.
In the late 1960's, Watson wanted a replica of the
machine that could be moved and exhibited. Guatelli
and Mirabella made it for him and they made three
other replicas. Mirabella recalled the difficulty they
had achieving the patina of the machine. But when
they were done, IBM could not tell the difference
between the original and the replicas. Like the
original, the replicas had great difficulty adding to
1,000. The mechanism as designed could not move
the gears beyond 999. Over time. they made a few
other replicas which IBM presented as gifts to
In 1972, they made the model of Babbage's
Difference Engine #1 prototype for IBM which was
presented to retiring chairman T. V. Learson. It is
now displayed in the CHM Calculators gallery,
courtesy of Mr. Learson's wife. They also made a
In 1974-75, IBM commissioned a Hollerith machine
replica for a touring exhibition. It was based on an
original machine in IBM's collection. In making the
replica, they also re-built the original to working
(Also. in our collection we have a Guatelli model of
the Leibnitz "stepped drum" as used in the Leibnitz
calculator and a demonstration model of a single
digit carry mechanism from the Schickard
While Guatelli and Mirabella worked primarily for
IBM. they had other clients. In 1981, Digital
Equipment commissioned a Hollerith replica for its
nascent computer museum. That is the replica that
we have. They also made a Pascaline replica for
Mirabella believes that the firm made six or eight
Pascaline replicas, just two of the Difference
Engine replicas and four to six Hollerith tabulator
Roberto Guatelli died in September 1993 at the age
89. The work shop in New York, run at the time by
Mirabella, closed in 2005. Nathan Myhrvold bought
the remaining calculating replicas and Mirabella
donated the Leonardo models to the Suffolk and
Riverside Science Museum in New York.
Replicas help us tell the story, and the replicas
made by Roberto Guatelli and Joseph Mirabella are
works of technology and art in their own right.
If you have comments or suggestions,
Send e-mail to Ed Thelen.
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Updated June 15, 2017