Punch card

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The signature medium of computing's Stone Age, now long obsolete outside of a few legacy systems. The punched card actually predates computers considerably, originating in 1801 as a control device for Jacquard looms.

The version patented by Herman Hollerith and used with mechanical tabulating machines in the 1890 US Census was a piece of cardboard about 90 mm by 215 mm. There is a widespread myth that it was designed to fit in the currency trays used for that era's larger dollar bills, but recent investigations have falsified this.

IBM (which originated as a tabulating-machine manufacturer) married the punched card to computers, encoding binary information as patterns of small rectangular holes; one character per column, 80 columns per card. Other coding schemes, sizes of card, and hole shapes were tried at various times.

The 80-column width of most character terminals is a legacy of the IBM punched card; so is the size of the quick-reference cards distributed with many varieties of computers even today.

see also computer storage, memory


Based on the FOLDOC entry.