JF Ptak Science Books Post 835
Today’s post on the tabulating office of the French 1911 Census seems quite natural following yesterday’s of the reading-and-writing (French) fireproof man...
Like many other countries, the French were certainly not playing to the technological audience in conducting their census of 1911, the physical, tabulating part of it looking much as it did in the 1880’s. Granted, the United States was dragged somewhat into the new high-tech age of tabulating for its 1890 census, but it was absolutely and clearly shown that the Herman Hollerith machines and methods were vastly superior to those previous used, giving the government extraordinary new insights into the way in which the country functioned—a Hubble Telescope-like impact for those interested in more and more-manipulable data.
What interests me in these photos are the endless stacks of paper, and what I imagine was the quiet of the job of the paper-stack-classifier, all of whom seem to be heavily dressed…I guess that you couldn’t keep a dry heat around exposed paper like that for fear of (a) well, possible fire and (b) drying the documents out and making them fragile and unusable.
The image below shows two men using the Thacher Calculating Instrument, a large, cylindrical slide rule1.
This man is using an arithmometer, invented by Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar in 1820. It was employed, as we can clearly see, well into the 20th century even though it had been far superseded.
The U.S. government, on the other hand, wasn’t so much taken by the astronomical range of new statistics that flowed from the Hollerith machines as it was the astronomical bill for their use. The 1880 census had cost about $6 million and took 9 years to tabulate; the 1890 census using the Hollerith machines cost $10 million and took seven years. The main focus of many in government was the cost differential—not the incredible amounts of new controllable information. The rent of the Hollerith machines was only $750,000 for the conduct of the entire census, so the differential must’ve been in the extra utility costs (for electricity, for example, which was used for the first time to run the tabulators) and for the small army of statisticians and data entry people. Be that as it may, the government was not amused, particularly when Hollerith figured that he had actually saved the government $5 million. The two parties left each other grumbling, though the roar of the trickle down from the Hollerith success drowned it out. The tabulating system was quickly exported, and large private concerns in the U.S. saw a savior in the system that would soon rescue them from the sea of paper in which they were beginning to drown. The Hollerith company did very, very well for itself, and soon merged with three other companies (in 1911) to ease the burden of success. The resulting company was called the Computing-Tabulating-Research Company (CTR), which after a short while became the International Business Machine Corporation (IBM).
Image source: The Illustrated London News, 11 March 1911.
1.The following description is from the wonderful SlideRuleMuseumsite;
“Thacher's Calculating Instrument - Patented in 1881 by Edwin Thacher. Originally made by W.F. Stanley, in London, but, by 1897, Keuffel & Esser had taken over production. an 1884 instruction book notes, "The original rule in use is 12 inches long, with radii of II and 5 1/2 inches, the divisions of which are cut by hand, copying from a machine divided plate. In the present instrument the radii are 60 and 30 feet, the divisions of which are printed directly from machine divided plates. Those plates contain over 33,000 divisions, calculated to seven places of decimals from Babbage's tables by using a common multiplier, every line being subjected to correction for error of screw and temperature variations, so that possibly every line center is within .0001 inch of its true place." The instrument consists of a cylindrical slide, which admits of both rotary and longitudinal movement within an open metallic framework of 20 equidistant triangular bars. The bars are connected to rings at their ends which admit rotation within standards attached to the base. Upon the slide are wrapped two complete logarithmic scales, each of which is divided into 40 parts of length equal to half that of the slide. The parts follow each other in regular order around the cylinder, and the figures and divisions which constitute any part of the right are repeated on the left, one line in advance. By the rotary and longitudinal movement of the slide any of its divisions may be brought opposite to or in contact with any division on the fixed scales. The divisions on the upper lines are transferred to the slide by means of a pointer fitting over the bars, which is also convenient for retaining the position of any division on either line while the slide is being revolved into the required position. Near the commencement of each scale on the slide is a heavy black mark designed to catch the eye.”