Brief History Of Linux (#8)
Let's all holler for Hollerith
In 1890 the US Congress wanted to extend the census to collect exhaustive
demographic information on each citizen that could be resold to marketing
companies to help pay for the newly installed gold-plated toilets on
Capitol Hill. Experts estimated that the 1890 Census wouldn't be completed
until 1900. It was hoped that an electronic tabulating machine using
punchcards designed by Herman Hollerith would speed up the process.
It didn't quite work out that way. An infestation of termites ate their
way through the wooden base of Hollerith's machines, and then a wave of
insects devoured several stacks of punchcards. Also, some Hollerith
models had the propensity to crash at the drop of a hat... literally. In
one instance, the operator dropped his hat and when he reached down to
pick it up, he bumped the machine, causing it to flip over and crash.
These flaws meant that the census was delayed for several years. However,
the system was, in the words of one newspaper reporter, "good enough for
government work", a guiding principle that lives on to this very day and
explains the government's insistence on using Windows-based PCs.