The following is an excerpt of a rough draft of the soon-to-be-published book, A Brief History of Computing: The GNU Story.
Frustrated with the grueling, expensive, labor-intensive 7.5 years it would take to tabulate the 1880 census, high-ranking census official, John Shaw Billings commissioned his future son-in-law, Herman Hollerith, to build a machine that would reduce the time it would take to calculate the next census.
Hollerith worked throughout the 1880's on his device and won a speed tabulating contest against several other machines to win the contract to tabulate the 1890 census. His machine, using a punch-card processing technique similar to Babbage's Analytical Engine, would complete a simple count of the 1890 census in just under 6 weeks and a full calculation in less than 2.5 years.
Due to this initial success, Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company (TMC), which sold similar devices to anyone in need, including railroads, government offices, and even tsarist Russia, which also was looking to speed-up its census-taking process. TMC would undergo several mergers and name changes over its first third-of-a-century of life, but would settle, in 1924, on the name International Business Machines, or IBM.
Copyright © 2013 Russell James
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".