Talk:Punched card

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Why is it "punched tape" and "punch card"?

It is punched card Pi314m (talk) 19:35, 5 November 2018 (UTC)

Hollerith's key punch codes system (zones and values) was implimented as FIPS-14. Just thought it would be nice to mention it here. I have never been able to get FIPS-14 our of my mind, even though I haven't used it in over a decade. Thanks, Matthew Brown Lake Oswego, OR

some material here moved from "Hollerith" and "Hollerith card", now redirects. See those pages for history. -- Someone else 05:46, 4 Nov 2003 (UTC)


Question about bits and chad. I worked with punch cards for years. All the places I worked refered to chads as bits (bits of paper), they were even collected in the 'bit bucket'. I never heard the term chad until the 2000 election! Why do so many sites claim bit is short for binary digit instead of 'bit of paper'? Is there any proof that either is correct or incorrect?

. Thanks Dwight

See Chad (paper) and [1]. --Zigger 04:01, 2004 Jul 4 (UTC)

The term always used at IBM was neither "bits" nor "chad" but rather "chips." The container which received the punched-out pieces of card was called the "chip box". The term "chad", I believe, was more commonly used in reference to the little paper dots punched out of paper tape. My "authority" on this derives from the fact that I was once employed by IBM as a Customer Engineer (service technician), and my father was once an engineer with the FAA, and worked for many years with teletypewriters (used for aviation weather reports). I played with TTY gear myself, together with my father, in connection with Ham Radio. Dad called the tape punch-outs "chad" and at IBM, the analogous part of a punched card was always a "chip."

I suspect that the references to "chad" in connection with the 2000 election problems in Florida may result from the fact that older news reporters are more familiar with the TTY term, as TTY equipment was used to receive wire-service newsfeeds, often relayed by means of paper tape. Some paper-tape punches were designed to punch little "trap doors" in the tape instead of removing the paper altogether. The holes could still be sensed with pins, but the text could also be printed on the tape because the holes weren't punched out. I have one such antique device (ca. 1942) in my garage, officially called a "Teletype Model 14 chadless printing re-perforator". --RussHolsclaw 06:14, 31 January 2006 (UTC)

My 1967 Random House Dictionary of the English Language defines chad as "the small paper disks formed when holes are punched in a punch card or paper tape." --agr 15:51, 6 March 2006 (UTC)

"Disks" eh? (emphasis above added). Could it be that if the holes are round, they're chad, but they're chips if the holes are rectangular? :-) RussHolsclaw 05:09, 7 March 2006 (UTC)

There is a discussion of etymology in the article on chad (paper). It was not unusual for IBM to employ terminology that differed from the rest of the industry. --agr 11:53, 7 March 2006 (UTC)

You seem to be suggesting that I think chad is a newer term, while citing an etymology that states that the term originates in 1947 (which is wrong... it's much older than that). I don't know which term was the original one, I'm only stating that IBM always seemed to use the term chips, not only internally, but in customer documentation, and even on signs and indicator lights on the equipment. For example, the 2540 card reader/punch, and its predecessor, the 1402, each had an operator's light labelled "Chip Box", which lit when the box was full, or had not been put back in place. Interestingly, it determined both conditions by weight; too light, no chip box; too heavy, the box is full.

I inherited some old Teletype maintenance manuals from my father, dating back to 1942, although he worked on TTY gear even earlier than that. The book on the Model 14 tape reader ("Transmitter-distributor") shows a picture with chadless tape, and a parts book from 1944, for a tape punch unit ("perforator"), lists a "chad chute" as one of the parts. Both of these prove that the etymology giving 1947 is wrong, and probably by much more than the dates in my WW II-vintage manuals.

Still, IBM used the word "chips" for card punch-outs, and undoubtedly did for at least as long, according to the old-timers I met when I first started working for IBM in 1966. It seem probable that Herman Hollerith called them that, too, or IBM probably wouldn't have used that term. It would be interesting to see which term is older. Teletype (AT&T) used "chad", and IBM used "chips". I wonder what term was used at, say, Remington Rand, with their round-holed 90-column punched cards, or Frieden, with their Flexowriter paper-tape typewriter. You seem to be pretty certain that "the rest of the industry" was using the term "chad". Do you have evidence for this assertion?

[Friden (only one "e", often misspelled reasonably, as here) definitely did call it chad. I worked for Rochester R&D for a spell; that's where the Flexowriter was engineered. Regards, Nikevich (talk) 19:17, 10 March 2011 (UTC)]

Speaking for myself, I knew the term "chad" earlier, from my father and the TTY. I only inserted the reference to "chips" because it is the customary word to use in connection with IBM punched cards, and I stated that the term "chad" gained notice in popular culture because it was used in news accounts of the 2000 Election problem in Florida. I suspect that news journalists were more familiar with the term chad, because of the TTY equipment used by wire services. But I never heard an IBMer (other than myself) use the word "chad".

My father, now 94, is still living. I'll ask him how far back "chad" goes, in his memory.

--RussHolsclaw 15:27, 7 March 2006 (UTC)

I was concerned the wording gave the impression that chad was only used in connection with punch cards after 2000, which is not the case. The word chip would be a problem today, of course, because it's used for ICs, so that could be a reason the press settled on chad. This article should reflect both terms and there should be a mention of chip in the chad article. I suspected that chad was much older than 1947. You should also cite your teletype manual at that article. I would strongly urge you to get your dad to put his recolections about his work on tape. So much of this information is gettting lost. --agr 17:05, 7 March 2006 (UTC)

I talked to my dad on the phone tonight. He started working on Teletype gear in 1939, and the word chad was in common use at that time, by his recollection. As to the ambiguity between card chips and semiconductor ICs, I've often suspected that the little silicon rectangles may have been dubbed "chips" because of their resemblance to card chips, both in size and shape. Of course, I know of no way to confirm this, but it seems logical. They were also called "dice" (or, in singular form, "die") because the silicon wafer is "diced up" to make individual ICs. --RussHolsclaw 05:29, 8 March 2006 (UTC)

Usage at 3M. In the 1980s I maintained a line of engineering cameras, readers, printers and card duplicators (the 9x8 series) for 3M Co; The training, engineering and maintenance staff universally used the term 'chad' for the rectangular punchings.

LorenzoB 17:05, 6 October 2007 (UTC)

Univac also uses the term chips and the box that collects the chips is called the "Chip Receiver". Source: Univac 1700 Series Operating Instructions, published by Remington Rand Corporation, (c) 1969, 1970. --mikeu (talk) 23:09, 13 January 2008 (UTC)

I can assure younger folk that round punchings from paper tape were called "chad". I was the Flexowriter technician for the BMEWS DIP in Colorado Springs, before the NORAD COC went under Cheyenne Mountain. The USAF had data buffers that punched chadless tape from intermittent, bursty incoming data feeds. Slower readers had sense pins on the end of a rather long (2 ft?) swinging arm that "walked" up right next to the punch head if there was no incoming data. Blank tape rolls were comparatively enormous. Ordinry ones were maybe 9 or 10 in. dia, but these were more like a yard/meter! Regards, Nikevich (talk) 19:13, 10 March 2011 (UTC)

Still in useEdit

Punchcards are still used for places like carparks etc.

and time cards. RickK 03:54, 28 Jan 2004 (UTC)

As much as I agree that punch cards probably altered the 2000 election, that hasn't actually been verified, has it? Is that statement not a bit biased? (I'm referring to the "Hanging Chad" section.

Evanbro 00:43, Sep 8, 2004 (UTC)

They're also still in use to program fountains. Tragic romance (talk) 18:56, 31 October 2011 (UTC)

Why is the punched card the size of the 1887 US dollar bill?Edit

I see quite a number of assertions in discussions around the web that the dollar-bill-size association is an urbam legend. Does anyone have an authoritative source? snopes doesn't say anything on this; I'm going to characterize it as possibly a legend until someone comes up with a cite, not seeing any discussion here to the contrary. Baylink 02:37, 13 Nov 2004 (UTC)

I added a paragraph about this, giving the two most commonly cited reasons, and stating that there is no real evidence for either of them. T-bonham (talk) 08:14, 21 March 2008 (UTC)
I added a third reason, the availability of handling equipment for that media size, that I heard in my punch-card-handling days, the mid-1960s. John Sauter (talk) 12:34, 10 April 2008 (UTC)

I redirected an entry on dimpled and hanging chad here because this was better written, but maybe we should move the hanging chad section of this article to that page and refer to it? RJFJR 02:38, 20 Dec 2004 (UTC)

The first punchcards were used by the french weaver Basile Bouchon in 1725, and improved by Falcon a few years later.

Port-A-Punch detailsEdit

Is it worth mentioning that the Port-A-Punch only permitted 40 columns to be punched (skipping alternate columns to keep the card somewhat stronger), or that it was used for coding and storing programs for the Monroe 1665 Programmable Calculator (presumably under license)?: , —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 08:12, 10 December 2009 (UTC)

You'll be pleased to know - 40 column text added 16:58, 3 April 2017‎. (talk) 19:22, 3 July 2017 (UTC)

What did Hollerith's patent describe?Edit

Does anyone know what Hollerith patented? This reference says that "Babbage's proposed use of cards played a crucial role in later years, providing a precedent that prevented Hollerith's company from claiming patent rights on the very idea of storing data on punched cards." It may be that Hollerith patented the size of card if it's correct that he wasn't able to patent the general idea of punched cards. Can anyone help? Adrian Robson 10:31, 21 August 2005 (UTC)

Hollerith patented a complete system for processing the cards. See his patents from 1889: U.S. Patent 395,781 U.S. Patent 395,782 U.S. Patent 395,783--agr 16:53, 18 January 2006 (UTC)

See: (talk) 21:36, 24 December 2018 (UTC)

Thanks but the fact that the Jacquard loom used cards with holes or not-holes to control pattern-weaving is not exactly news to anyone even minimally familiar with the history of this tech. Jeh (talk) 09:19, 25 December 2018 (UTC)

Merge with punched tape?Edit

The following discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section.

Oppose- Paper tape and punch card are completely different media: different shape, thickness, hole size character encoding, readers and writers, history, time frame, etc. The only thing they have in common is paper (and some paper tape was made of mylar). --agr 16:45, 18 January 2006 (UTC)

Oppose and comment- While they share some heritage back with weaving looms, cards went for a lot of information on single discrete units, tape went for information spread across one long unit. Ronabop 04:27, 20 January 2006 (UTC)

Oppose- I added link to Punched tape in See also, which seems to be much more useful than merging disparate articles. Slark 07:19, 29 January 2006 (UTC)

Oppose- I agree. User:Ray Van De Walker

The above discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section.

Inquiry on corner-cutsEdit

I worked for IBM for a number of years as a Customer Engineer, trained on the inner workings of a number of punched-card machines made by IBM. During that time, I never saw a machine that had a "corner cut switch" to stop the machine when a corner cut was either present or absent. The machines just didn't have any corner-cut detection hardware at all. The only exception to this I recall was that some machines, notably card sorters, had a special extra-cost feature called "master/detail", which could use corner cuts to distinguish a "master" card (with information about, say, an account), and "detail" cards that were inserted into the deck behind their respective "masters". When turned on, the effect of this master/detail detection hardware was to cause the detail cards to be automatically sorted into the same pocket as the last master card detected.

Does anyone out there have any specific information about the allegation that machines had a corner-cut detector for the purpose of detecting cards that were not oriented correctly? If so, please provide details, such as the make and model (or IBM machine-type number) of the machine in question. It seems to me that this assertion in the article may have been an uninformed conjecture on the part of the person who entered it, and is not backed by any true knowledge. --RussHolsclaw 18:05, 5 March 2006 (UTC)

Yes. Special feature 4714 for IBM model 24 and 26 keypunches supported interspersed gangpunching based on detection of upper left or upper right corner cuts.[2]]. This was presumably for shops that didn't have a reproducer like an IBM 514, the usual machine for gangpunching. --John Nagle (talk) 05:37, 21 September 2009 (UTC)
The exact answer to your question is No, there was no feature to detect incorrect orientation.
But there were machines that could recognize - and act - based on corner cuts. In addition to the keypunch (above) an optional feature on some sorters (see A24-1010 Operator's Guide p.42 for example) was a "Card Matching Device" that could sort master cards from detail cards - determined by the card's corner cut (or by a punch in col. 1 or 80). (talk) 19:02, 3 July 2017 (UTC)
The usual feature for ensuring cards were orientated correctly in the reader was a mk1 eyeball and thumb. Martin of Sheffield (talk) 19:31, 3 July 2017 (UTC)

5081 cardsEdit

Punch Cards (80 col, hollerith format) were also informally called "5081 cards". 5081 being the IBM part number printed in very small letter along the bottom of the card. This part number was likely for a standard punch card, with the stock printing across all 80 columns. Not certain, but I would expect a different number for other styles of printing (or possibly if the corner was cut on the other end).

Standard Form 5081 was a US Government Standard Form that adopted the IBM 5081 punch card standard. An example of the Standard Form 5081 is what is depicted in the 5081 card image on this page. These were in common use in the early '80s when I was a "Data Operator" at an Air Force Data Processing Center. Bowlingj (talk) 20:00, 19 March 2012 (UTC)

Cards were typically available in buff (sort of an off beige natural color), red, green and blue.

There were thousands of different card types, each with its own stock number. Large organizations, such as universities, would have cards with their logo in the background. Other punch card suppliers often used the IBM part numbers. I have 5081 cards, which are plain with no column dividers, from Globe and BSC. You can still buy 5081's from for $32/box of 2000. The standard Fortran card was 888157. I have examples from IBM, CDC and JTC. I have some Princeton University Fortran cards marked IBM N26238 and Stevens Institute of Technology marked JTC 11121.
You could order cards in a wide variety of colors. It was more common, though, to get buff cards with a colored stripe along the top.--agr 03:23, 14 May 2006 (UTC)

The cards typically had a small numeral 9 printed on the bottom edge and a 12 printed on the top. This was because cards were usually fed face down, 9 edge first into the reader, with a sticker on the hopper thus instructing the operator. This inevitably led to the question "which is the 9 edge?", since that isn't intuitively obvious to the casual observer since the bottom of 12 rows would be the 9 row (the top two had various names, the bottom ten were row zero through 9). -anon165.2.186.10 22:02, 1 December 2006 (UTC)

I worked on an 1BM 1401 with an 1402 card reader in the '70's. The machine indeed would stop if there was a card in upside down. I think instead of looking at the cut, it would look at the code in the card. If it made no sense (not a valid character), then the program would stop. It would give you an error. You would then do a "runout" and change the orientation of the card. Other machines did the same, The CDC 3300 also would stop on an card being upside down. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:15, 4 February 2008 (UTC)

I don't think you could reliably detect an upside-down card this way. Many characters produce a perfectly valid (but different) character when turned upside-down. This is especially true of numbers, and it was quite common to have data cards that were entirely numeric. T-bonham (talk) 07:35, 10 April 2008 (UTC)
The punched version of EBCDIC allows only one punch in rows 1 through 7. Turned upside down, those would be rows 6 through 0, so a card with punches in row 0 and one of rows 1 through 6 would fail the test. Those characters are reasonably likely to appear. Gah4 (talk) 19:31, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

How many punch cards are needed to store the same amount as a DVD?Edit

I read this somewhere, and it was some ridiculously high number. I've forgotten what it was. Does anyone know? That could be an intersting fact to add to the artical. --Richy 15:08, 31 May 2006 (UTC)

A 4.7 GB DVD, with 80 characters per card, would require about 58 million cards, or a stack about 10 km high. Using binary format you could do a bit better, 120 bytes per card, but most punch card systems would have trouble dealing with them. --agr 19:13, 31 May 2006 (UTC)

Pre-IBM CardsEdit

I started programming on the Lyons Leo towards the end of its life in 1962: it used a 20-column card of the same height as the IBM cards, but thicker. This machine was the first non-military commercial computer anywhere and predates IBM's foundation. The 20-column cards had a row of round chad-holes punched about a quarter of an inch down from the top edge which were cut into by scissors to create a binary sort using a thin wire, in case you ever dropped the deck. The slope was there to ensure you put them back the right-way round before sorting: there's no use sorting 01101 into 10110 just because you picked the card up the wrong way round! The first 80-column cards were pre-cut with the entire set of platelets tacked by their corners: the card was placed on a plastic mask to support it while you punched out the code removing the individual holes you needed by hand. The problem was that after 2 or 3 runs, the bending of the card started popping other platelets out, so you had to redo the entire thing. Naturally, card-punch machines came along soon afterwards. --Jel 4 July 2006

Those sound like Royal McBee Keysort cards.[3]. I think there was a British equivalent of Keysort, and it may have been that system. --John Nagle (talk) 18:39, 17 September 2009 (UTC)

French customs storyEdit

I removed the following story. There are many good stories from the punch card era. This one may even be true, but it doesn't belong in the article unless it can be verified and it is notable in some way. --agr 21:28, 3 August 2006 (UTC)

A story that has made several rounds involves a French company that had a program written for them on punch cards by a US company. The story says that whenever the French company tried to use the program it wouldn't work, even though the programmers said it worked for them. After several tries, which involved sending a new shipment of cards each time without success. Finally someone accompanied the cards along the way. It was discovered that as was common practice to remove samples, French Custom Officials were removing a few cards at random from each shipment thereby causing the program not to function.

500lb Keypunch?Edit

The keypunch machine was a complex electromechanical device and weighed about 500lb, from article. I can't recall ever moving one, but this is hard to believe. Any source for the this? Else it should be removed. 06:12, 27 September 2006 (UTC)

  • I never moved one either, but those were big machines, and made almost entirely of steel. Steel frame, desk, steel covers over everything, and heavy-duty, industrial-strength motors, solenoids punch mechansim, printing mechanism, transport, etc. I used to ride a motorcycle that weighed about 500 lbs. I can totally believe that an 029 keypunch would weigh about the same. (talk) 13:01, 4 June 2012 (UTC)

Columns 73-80 were reserved ...Edit

Looking at the IBM 704 manual,, it states on page 39 that "Only 72 columns of the standard IBM card, however, can be read.". It's not a surprise then that the 1956 Fortran manual for the IBM 704 on page 8 states "Columns 73-80 are not read by FORTRAN and may be punched with any desired identifying information.".

How or where, with the passage of time, did that change to "Reserved for"? Where is the source for such a blanket statement? Computer installions may have made such a rule, but that rule would be for that installation, not for all punched cards. 21:16, 29 September 2006 (UTC)

I changed the text, dropping "reserved for". Is that better? Use of sequence numbers was a wide spread practice . It's mentioned in Organick's Fortran IV Primer p.182. --agr 23:35, 30 September 2006 (UTC)

Yes, thanks. For me there is a big difference between "reserved for" and "could be used". Thanks again, 06:14, 1 October 2006 (UTC)

Yes, that was an IBM 704 thing, and it made it into FORTRAN. The 704 was a 36-bit machine, and the card reader transmitted the bits from each card to the CPU as two 36-bit words. The 704 then had to "turn the corner" (convert the row-wise information to column-wise information by transposing the bit matrix) in software. The hardware could read any 72 columns, if you wired the card reader's plugboard appropriately, but the usual setup was to read columns 1-72. The 704 was a real stored-program computer, but the card peripherals and the printer were all based on plugboard-wired tabulating machines. IBM was still inching their way into all-electronic computing at that point. The 709 had the same set of clunky peripherals, but the 1401 and 7090, the transistorized machines, used completely different peripherals not based on old unit record equipment, and plugboards disappeared at last. --John Nagle (talk) 06:04, 21 September 2009 (UTC)

In the 1980s, I encountered some old Fortran program decks wherein cards containing program statements had a "C" or an asterisk punched in column 80. Of course, the program ignored everything after Column 72. The idea was that this statement could be disabled by flipping the card over the long way. This places the comment indicator (the "C" or "*") in the first column, where it became effective, causing the program to ignore this card for processing purposes. The statement could be re-enabled by flipping the card back, and so on, and thus the program could be run in different modes without re-encoding anything. As the cards were symmetrical, they could be read either way. Of course, when a deck with reversed cards got duplicated, the resultant deck now had all the cards apparently in the same orientation, but some of the "comments" had peculiar, reversed text, like "C [many spaces] 2C ,1C ,B ,A TNIRP ". WHPratt (talk) 17:46, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

As noted, the use of columns 1 to 72 for Fortran source, leaving 73-80 for other uses, originated on 36 bit machines, and was then included in the Fortran standard. More modern Fortran standards allow for free form (with different restrictions), but still allow for fixed form with columns 1-72, and continuation character in column 6. IBM then used a related convention for S/360 assembler. (The actual columns can be changed with an ICTL assembler instruction, but that is more likely to confuse readers. In the usual system, column 72 is where a continuation character goes, and the statement continues on the next card in column 16.) S/360 utility programs also follow this convention. I believe COBOL also follows this convention, though I have never written any programs in it, and don't know the history of it all that well.

Intro and recent editsEdit

I edited the intro to add a statement as to what punch cards were and to eliminate bullets, which aren't good style for an intro. I would also question moving "programming in the punch card era" to computer programming. Computer programming is a big subject and the punch card story is is a detail of history that doesn't deserve that much coverage in the main computer programming article. I think it fits better here. Finally, I have some 5081 cards and a Remmington Rand card that I will scan and add to the article. --agr 02:39, 10 October 2006 (UTC)

Thanks for the intro improvements, looking forward to seeing your images.

I moved "computer programming in the punch card era" to "computer programming" because it had little to do with punched cards, didn't deserve that much coverage here! Think about the prospective readers: someone reading about computer programming might find "the old days" interesting; but for someone reading about punched cards, there is very little in the story. I'd be distressed to see it return here without more discussion. And if it's not in the best "computer programming" place, people editing those articles can take care of it as they see fit. The Punched Card article is now about punched cards; non-Hollerith history move to History of computing, keypunch text has been moved to keypunch, unit record text to unit record, cryptography text & such deleted, and computer programming moved to computer programming.

There are some things still missing:

  • the Hollerith formats between 24 and 45 columns
  • a description (list) of the things that punch the cards
  • references/pointers to ISO standards for card size, card codes
  • a Charlie Brown cartoon where the tooth fairy has left an IBM Card check for $.10 - do not fold spindle ... and Charlie makes some comment about modern methods.

(btw, I did leave a "See also" for the computer programming text) (and, almost 70, the old days were my days too -- I recognized the story - so it wasn't moved by someone who didn't appreciate the story)

thanks again, 08:03, 10 October 2006 (UTC)

IBM VotomaticEdit

The article text asserts that the Votomatic card was a Port-A-Punch card. Is that know to be true, or is it an assumption based on similar construction of the cards? If true, then IBM Votomatic is an application and should not have its own heading under Card Formats. 15:22, 10 October 2006 (UTC)

True. Votomatic is now listed with card handling machines. (talk) 00:54, 4 July 2017 (UTC)

FOLDOC footerEdit

The FOLDOC footer is currently inserted like this:

In part, {{FOLDOC}}

Which renders like this:

In part, This article was originally based on [...]

The problem is that the word "this" is capitalized when it shouldn't be, which is ugly. We need to SUBST the template and decapitalize the 'T', or we need to just remove the "In part," portion (possibly rewording the template itself to allow "partially based" content), or we need a new template. I'm not sure which would be the Right Thing. - furrykef (Talk at me) 00:32, 27 October 2006 (UTC)

Jacquard's Loom?Edit

Why does the article credit Hollerith with the invention when the textile industry had been using punched cards since 1801? Hollerith must have been aware of these machines since they were in common use in his time.

Hollerith developed their use for data processing. I tweaked the article to make that clearer.--agr 15:43, 12 November 2006 (UTC)
Yes - but this article is about punched cards - not about data processing. I've researched further and even Jacquard was not the first. To give credit to Hollerith is to miss out on a two hundred years throughout which punched cards were in regular use for textile looms! I've added a few sentences to the top of the 'History' section - but the introductory section is still grossly misleading. Even that misses out on yet earlier applications for punched paper disks in musical boxes. SteveBaker 00:51, 13 November 2006 (UTC)
This article is about the Hollerith punched card, not about punched cards in general. See the very 1st line of article, beginning "This article is about ....". tooold 17:09, 13 November 2006 (UTC)
And, if you'll look at the "08:43, 5 October 2006" version, you'll see that trying to have some history in punched card card and some in "History ..." didn't work. Neither was a summary of the other, neither had all the details that were present. The image that you've added here is not present in "History ...", so were back to those same problems. It looks likes I had, at that revision, left a pointer to "History ...", now gone. I really wish that you'd remove the history additions, getting it right in one place is hard enough. If "Punched Card" expands its scope, then we get edge punched cards, ... I forget what all got cleaned out.
If you want an article about a limited subset of punched cards then make one - but don't call it "Punch(ed) card" - call it "Hollerith card" or something. An article named "Punched card" needs to be about ALL punched cards - and that's really not open for debate. The FULL history of the punched card doesn't remotely start with Hollerith. The way the article was before I added to it suggested that Hollerith woke up one mornining and had the bright idea of storing data by punching holes in bits of cardboard - when in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. He had known of the use of card technology in looms, musical boxes and player pianos. Omitting those from the history of the punched card is to do a terrible disservice to all who preceeded Hollerith. So - let's tell the whole truth. SteveBaker 20:26, 13 November 2006 (UTC)
Would you accept Hollerith, IBM, and UNIVAC Punched Cards for the title? That is, I believe, exactly what the article is intended to cover. Given that title would you allow the article text to note that other manufactures could make those same cards? If "Yes, Yes" then make the change, fine with me.
Well, I would - but then I'd have to start a whole new article about punched cards in general - copying all of that material over. Why do you think Hollerith cards need to be discussed to the exclusion of all earlier punched cards? It's not at though the article is overly long or that adding the discussion of earlier forms of punched card distracts from the Hollerith stuff. The reason I arrived here in the first place is that I've been doing a major re-org of the article Computer and needed to link to an article about punched cards (in the context of the Jacquard loom and how punched cards from the textile industry fired off the Hollerith card concept - which in turn lead to IBM, etc. When I arrived here (as anyone naturally would if looking for that kind of information) - I was horrified to find an article that essentially said that Hollerith invented the punched card in 1890 - which is utter nonsense! We need an article that's called "Punched card" and which describes the entire history - from 1725 all the way up to the late 1970's (I was still using them as late as 1977 - so they probably didn't die out everywhere until the early-1980's). To slice off just the last 80 years of the history seems strange to me. But - as I said, if you strongly feel that you have so much to say about Hollerith cards that it would stretch to a really long article - then you should make the 'fork'. Personally, I think there is room in one article for Bouchon, Jacquard, Hollerith, the IBM 029 - and everything in between. SteveBaker 22:31, 13 November 2006 (UTC)
"Why do you think Hollerith cards need to be discussed to the exclusion of all earlier punched cards?" Because this article is one of several relating to Electronic Data Processing, (EPD), not about the history of punched cards in general.
General punched card history is in History of computing hardware#1801: punched card technology. The relationship between Jacquard and Hollerith cards belongs at that level. Someone reading about Hollerith technology doesn't need to know details about Jacquard; someone reading about Jacquard technology doesn't need details about Hollerith.tooold 01:14, 14 November 2006 (UTC)
But what do you think someone who types "Punched card" into the search box expects to find? It could be either the Jacquard or the Hollerith variety - or they could be concerned with the overall history of punched cards, needing discussion of both. You have no idea an article with this name absolutely must cover all of those things. If the information is duplicated in History of computing hardware then there is a case for slimming down that article (which at 42Kbytes is WAY too long already) and sticking a {{main|Punched card}} in there. With these very long articles, we need to push the details out into daughter articles like this one - not pile more and more text into an already overly large article. I've been working for months on slimming down the main Computer article in this way (and it's still too long) - but pushing data down into yet more detailed articles is the only way to go. SteveBaker 18:50, 14 November 2006 (UTC)

btw, thank you, thank you, for the name change! It wasn't American's, I'd never heard the term "punch card" until this article and have no idea where "punch card" came from. My guess had been the English! I've renamed a lot of articles, mostly adding "IBM" or other vendor names ("System xyz" is not informative), but was reluctant to change this one for only the reason that I would like my name better. tooold 17:41, 13 November 2006 (UTC)

No - I'm British (although I live in Texas) and we Brits hate the tendancy to drop the 'ed' in these cases. I've been seeing it more and more over the past 10 years - another example that comes to mind was that I was at a Chinese restaruant last night - and right there on the menu: "Fry Rice"...ack!'s "Fried Rice" for chrissakes! SteveBaker 20:26, 13 November 2006 (UTC)
there is a "09:42, 9 June 2003" edit, "punched back to punch" by a user "212" in superscript -- might ask that user why.

article name changeEdit

Hollerith, IBM, and UNIVAC Punched Cards

Proposed name seems too long to me. How about "Punch card (data processing)" or "Punched card (data processing)"? Then have a disamb page "Punch card" (or "Punched card") for pointing to "Punch card (textile industry)", "Punch card (data processing)" and any others anyone dreams of. -- RTC 06:23, 15 November 2006 (UTC)
But this article isn't overly long - and the topics are definitely related - why on earth do we need to split it? I simply do not understand why you feel the need to hide the prior history of punched cards from readers who are interested in Hollerith cards. This is ridiculous. SteveBaker 13:40, 15 November 2006 (UTC)
Well, I didn't propose splitting it... I was just commenting on the proposed title made by someone else... a name that long will be totally non-obvious and impossible for someone that doesn't know the subject to even find. -- RTC 01:41, 16 November 2006 (UTC)

Inspiration for Hollerith cardEdit

What I was told was Hollerith's inspiration to use punched cards for the census data was observing a train conductor punching tickets (a punch in one spot for a man, another for a woman, another for a child, another for something else, etc.) so that when he came back again and checked tickets another time he could inspect the punches and verify that the ticket was for the right passenger, destination, etc. and had not been "passed on" to someone that hadn't bought it. Hollerith decided he could use a similar coding system for census data, but would need some level of mechanical assistance to punch and read the many holes he would need (the conductor only needed to punch a small number which could be verified at a glance). -- RTC 01:58, 16 November 2006 (UTC)

"train conductor punching ..." is correct. See Austrian's book p.15 for Hollerith's text. The complete Hollerith letter is (or used to be) accessible online. (talk) 23:01, 3 July 2017 (UTC)

"Do not fold, spindle or mutilate"Edit

Does anyone have an image of a punch card with the exact words "Do not fold, spindle or mutilate", or is it an iconic phrase that never actually appeared on any punch card? I have seen images of punch cards with similar warnings, but not that exact warning.Anthony717 06:33, 10 March 2007 (UTC)

An example, but not quite meeting your needs, is a Peanuts cartoon strip. The tooth fairy leaves a punched card check instead of the usual (at that time) dime, the phrase (I don't recall exact wording) is quoted and the character observers that modern times require improved methods. tooold 18:33, 25 May 2007 (UTC)
The warning was mostly printed on cards that were issued to the general public for later return, such as time card, bills and checks. Examples of these are harder to find, since they were returned and destroyed. Cards used by programmers and the like did not have the warnings. It was quite common, though later usage was often shortened to just "Do Not Mutilate." Fifty years from now, it might be hard to prove that 404 messages really appeared on the Web. Who saves them?--agr 20:36, 25 May 2007 (UTC)
The Lubar external link is to a paper where note 12 identifies a document with such examples. Let us know if you can get a copy of that document.tooold 02:37, 26 May 2007 (UTC)
This collection has a card with "Do not fold or mutilate". tooold 02:46, 26 May 2007 (UTC)
I've just added a book ref (in See Also) that might have such an example. Would be nice to have a review here or possibly added to the book ref. tooold 03:57, 26 May 2007 (UTC)


Oh the joy, the primal fun, the liver quiverin' delight of our anti-establishment hippie-type endeavors when the ever-present punch cards filling society back in the 1960s and 1970s were firmly grasped and using a sharp razor blade or x-acto knife-type device additional holes were cut into the punch card before sending it on its way.

It was the groovy thing to do at the time and we in the crash pad oft-times wondered to what extent our efforts "messed with 'the man' and if our efforts ever caused any despair within the evil corporate structure. Obbop (talk) 16:24, 9 June 2010 (UTC)

EAM cardsEdit

When RCA was in the mainframe business they referred to punched cards as "EAM cards" (Electronic Accounting Machine cards). Should "EAM card" redirect here? Nibios 16:42, 8 June 2007 (UTC)

Merge Aperture cardEdit

The following discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section.

The text in Aperture card is redundant with the more complete text in Punched cards. This merge request is so that the Aperture card article can be deleted, replaced by a redirect to Punched card. tooold 13:31, 14 November 2007 (UTC)

If anything, aperture card should merge to Microform. The most important aspect of this technology is the film, not the punch card. I think there is enough to say about them that a separate article can be justified, however. They are still in use, you can still buy equipment for making them, there is a lot of conversion to digital going on, claims of better archival quality, etc.--agr 13:56, 14 November 2007 (UTC)
If machine processing/retrievability is not important then there are other technologies that people use. Microfiche, microfilm. The proposal is about the articles as they stand (redundant), not about some future article. The punched card article itself might be split up someday if non-IBM machines were to be described in the same level of detail, or if ... or if .... tooold 13:52, 15 November 2007 (UTC)
Oppose - The previous comment raises a good point. Since an aperture card combines the two technologies, it ought not be merged with either. I improved the aperture card article a bit to illustrate the combination and provide some references. It should be able stand on its own now. -- Austin Murphy 15:37, 14 November 2007 (UTC)
If "combines the two technologies" is the criteria for separate articles then mark sense cards should be in a separate article. So should punch cards used as checks, bonds, ... Punched cards and financial instruments are very different technologies. Punched cards were used for a lot of different technologies - remember their use as ballots? What advantage is there for the Wikipedia user in breaking the article into multiple paragraphed-sized articles. All that would be accomplished is to make a coherent understanding of punched card use almost impossible. Or do you have some rule, or rules - if the technologies have property x, y, ..., then separate?
Is there some problem with the punched card article? Confusing? Too long? Disorganized? If no problems, then shouldn't Occam's razor apply - the simpler organization is better. Is maintainability a Wikipedia concern? In the absence of identified problems, a single article is more likely to be consistent than two articles are to be consistent with each other.
What advantage did you gain for the Wikipedia user by making the Aperture article an almost copy of the punched card article text? If the claimed advantage is only that opening the aperture article positions you immediately at the aperture text, then you would seem to be arguing again for every topic in every Wikipedia article to become a separate article. tooold 09:52, 15 November 2007
I removed the merge tags. The Aperture article is no longer copy of the punched card article text.--agr (talk) 21:03, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

The above discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section.

Image: A CTR census machine, utilizing a punched card systemEdit

The image at beginning of article is identified as a "CTR census machine" which, of course, it is not. How can the source be located so that both the source and the Wikipedia entries can be corrected? Thanks, (talk) 16:19, 22 March 2009 (UTC)

Hollerith encodingEdit

- Hollerith encoding was a standard for punch cards used in early computers. Until the early 1980's, the use of these punch cards was a common form of computer input.
- These punch cards were 80 columns by 12 rows in size, and in the Hollerith encoding scheme, had one BCD character[1] per column.
- An artifact of this early "standard" is that most character-based terminals used an 80-column by 24-row size. Even now, the default size for character interfaces remains set at 80 columns.

I merged the above here from Hollerith encoding, intending to integrate it into the article, removing redundancies, but ran out of time. Yes, it's largely redundandant, that's why it's being merged. But something should be said. --SmokeyJoe (talk) 22:43, 28 March 2009 (UTC)

Is it so obvious that 80 column terminals derive from 80 column cards? At 10cpi, a printer prints 80 columns in 8 (US) inches, convenient fit for 8.5in paper with a small margin. Or were cards designed as 80 columns to fit existing printers? Gah4 (talk) 19:39, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

When did card size standardize?Edit

The Columbia history site says that Hollerith used 3.5 by 7.375 inch cards in the 1890 census. This appears to be contradicted by Hollertih's 1889 and 1895 articles. In particular, the card format in the 1895 article has a very different aspect ration than the standard card. Also the standard punch card is a little bigger than a large-sized note, which puts the currency box claim into question. (Hollerith produced over 60 million punched cards for the 1890 census--ordering custom containers does not seem like a big issue.) The version I heard was that in 1928, T J Watson pulled out a dollar bill to settle a dispute among his engineers as to what the standard size should be, but that may well be legend. Does anyone have sources as to when the punched card size got standardized? --agr (talk) 13:37, 13 April 2009 (UTC)

How about the size being standardized several times?
Trusdell reports a different size, 6 5/8 by 3 1/4, as planned for the 1890 census. "Planned for", of course, is not the same as "used". The early cards were punched with a modified ticket punch and holes were set near the edges (Trusdell p.39). For obvious reasons Hollerith developed better card punches and did so before the 1890 census processing: the Pantograph and the Gang Punch. Truesdell p.44 reports the pantograph still in use in 1920. Thus the 1st answer to your question: when Hollerith built the pantograph that iron standardized card size for about 38 years: from 1890 to 1928.
"To 1928" assuming the 80 column 3 1/4 by 7 3/8 was not the same as the prior card. The 1928 IBM card set an informal standard.
Then there is ISO 1681:1973 (and likely a corresponding American standard) setting a formal standard. I do not know if their were earlier ISO or ANS or ANSI standards.
Found an IBM 010 description in Gille. The 010 had a selective feature: 80, 66 or 51 column fixed feed. A 66 column card is new to me. (talk) 15:32, 13 April 2009 (UTC)
First of all, to be clear, I'm talking about IBM's internal standard set in 1928. That was the big event. This standard was later adopted by others, e.g. Remington Rand and is still in use today. I have an American Airlines ticket I used a few weeks ago that is exactly punch card size and stock, but has no holes (mag stripe and 2-D bar code). Formal standards for punch cards came much later (ANSI X3.21 - 1967, FIPS 13 & 14) and simple describe long existing practice. I suspect that early on, Hollerith may have been willing to alter card size to meet the needs of large customers. The pantograph design could have been modified pretty easily by replacing the punch die, guides and index plate. Again the story I heard long ago was that IBM engineers were arguing about what the standard size should be and Watson settled it by pulling a dollar bill out.
I too remember the 010. I suspect that the 51 and 66 col feeds refer to 80-col cards with detachable stubs. The 010 seems have been used with older round-hole cards, see which I believe shows an 010 at the top. It comes from our article's ref 8 which shows the 45 col cards as well. The 010s may have been upgraded when rectangular holes became the standard. --agr (talk) 20:33, 13 April 2009 (UTC)

Other variations on punched cardsEdit

There were a few other types of punched cards not mentioned. One was a "Kimball tag" (see U.S. Patent #4,602,151 for an example), which was a small round-holed punch card used in retail systems. Stores used these on merchandise before bar codes. System 3 punched cards had the same hole spacing as Kimball tags, but were bigger.

UNIVAC supported "160 column cards" on a few machines. The UNIVAC 1004 and some UNIVAC computer peripherals could read both 80 column (80x12, rectangular hole) and 6-bit coded 90 column (45x12, round hole) cards. As a side effect, they could use the 6-bit code with 80x12 cards, resulting in a "160 column card". This never caught on. --John Nagle (talk) 18:51, 17 September 2009 (UTC)

Punch cardEdit

Why were all references to "punch card" removed from the article? That is an established usage and according to WP guidelines probably is the proper name for the article. But even if not it needs to be mentioned. Apparently it's because someone thinks it "should be" punched based on some linguistic gobbledygook? Gr8white (talk) 18:27, 14 April 2010 (UTC)

One could also reasonably argue that it's not really a "punched card" until it actually has holes punched in it, as opposed to the established usage of "punch card" to refer to the cards themselves. Gr8white (talk) 18:31, 14 April 2010 (UTC)
Gr8white is correct. Rwwww, I know that your changes were in good faith, but they are imposing prescriptivism onto usage that has already long been established (nearly a century). Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary under the entry "punch card" gives 1919 as the date of first attestation. So for the past 91 years people have been calling them "punch cards" as well as (and probably more often than) "punched cards". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition, also has an entry for "punch card". Regarding (as Gr8white put it) linguistic gobbledygook, in fact no linguistic scientist would agree that natural language vocabulary can be revised by fiat to the degree shown here. Your analysis of participles is fine; it's just that natural language doesn't always act according to the way that any prescription would predict. It does in fact evolve according to natural rules, but they are usually more complicated and additive (multifactorial) than prescriptive rules. The fact that "punch card" and "punched card" are synonymous and both acceptable must be restored to the article. Regards, — ¾-10 02:32, 15 April 2010 (UTC)
I've restored "punch card" to the article's first line but, I hope, only temporarily. The Wikipedia requirement is Use clear, precise and accurate terms. That is not the same thing as English as she is spoke. "punch card" has certainly been used, even in the title of a few books, notably in Truesdell's "The Development of Punch Card Tabulation in the Bureau of the Census, 1890-1940". However, ill-formed, missing the English language's required "ed" or "ing" suffix (and thus ambiguous) it is overshadowed by the extensive use of the correctly formed "punched card"
Just to be sure, I pulled out some of the serious histories (not popularizations) and checked their indexes:
  • Aspray, Computing before computers
  • Cortada, Before the Computer
  • Fisher, IBM and the U.S. Data Processing Industry
  • Willams, A History of Computing Technology
  • Randell, The origins of Digital Computers
In each case, the only term indexed is "punched card". So, is the term "punch card" used elsewhere? Of course. Is it appropriate for encyclopedic use, for Wikipedia? No, "used" is not the only criteria. Wikipedia is serious history; the clear, precise and accurate (and widely used!) term is "Punched card"; the casual "punch card" should simply be noted. tooold (talk) 18:36, 15 April 2010 (UTC)
OK, I am OK with presenting "punched card" as the preferable term and using it consistently throughout the article, as long as "punch card" is kept in the lede as an established variant (as opposed to it disappearing). Here's why. I understand your argument, but I disagree with your opinion of Wikipedia's balance point on the descriptive-vs-prescriptive spectrum. By your argument we would have to annihilate the following well-established terms from the English language. It can't happen; even languages that have academies cannot stop the populace from using natural language, which is certainly influenced by prescription but never totally controlled by it. And even if it could happen, Wikipedia is not a language prescription or enforcement tool; it reflects all established usage and does not tell the reader that one form is mandatory. We need to show "punch card" as a common variant. I am fine with the footnote arguing that "punched card" is superior. But "punch card" must not disappear.
Well-established term Supposed prescription for total replacement Comment
punch press punching press Both OK
roll pin (pressed-in fastener) *rolled pin Only the first is in prevalent usage
press fit *pressed fit Only the first is in prevalent usage
permanent press clothing *permanently pressed clothing Only the first is in prevalent usage

— ¾-10 01:35, 16 April 2010 (UTC)

You don't omit pertinent information from an article because it conflicts with your preconceived notions of linguistic correctness. Period. Gr8white (talk) 02:14, 16 April 2010 (UTC)

The term "punch card" was widely use (e.g. Organick, A Fortran IV Primer, Chapter 13 "Preparation of Punch Card Program Decks."), as was "punched card". The problem with the later term is that some cards might not, in fact, be punched. In particular, what do you call the contents of a box of blank cards? I believe punch card felt more natural for this reason. They were cards designed for punching, whether they had holes in them or not. To this day, some airline tickets are printed on punch card stock, but they have no holes.--agr (talk) 02:19, 16 April 2010 (UTC)

References for a 2017.6.30 edit to punched card. IBM name not on products until 1933Edit

Proceedings - American Gas Association, Volume 11 Amaerican Gas Association, incorporated, 1929

p.223 Each machine system possesses the advantage of certain mechanical refinements, but the essential difference between the two punched card billing systems is that under the Hollerith method the tabulating cards are first punched with all the billing data and proved ...

... or have definityly decided to use the Hollerith punched card billing system. The smallest company issues approximately 22,000 bills per month -- the largest 475,000. Three companies are using 80-column equipment; the others are using 45-column equipment. In addition, on other utility is experimenting with 80- ...

The Record, Volume 20 The Institute, 1931

p.337 In his system of maintaining the records and accounts, the author makes use of the addressograph, Hollerith 80 column punched card ...

p.378 Of interest to companies using the Hollerith 80 column equipment ... (talk) 02:33, 1 July 2017 (UTC)

Requested moveEdit

The following discussion is an archived discussion of a requested move. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on the talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

The result of the move request was: not moved. Dabomb87 (talk) 23:55, 2 February 2011 (UTC)

Punched cardPunch cardRelisted Vegaswikian (talk) 22:41, 19 January 2011 (UTC) clearly the more popular term. "punched card"==400k ghits; "punch card"==633k ghits. (talk) 05:08, 12 January 2011 (UTC)


Feel free to state your position on the renaming proposal by beginning a new line in this section with *'''Support''' or *'''Oppose''', then sign your comment with ~~~~. Since polling is not a substitute for discussion, please explain your reasons, taking into account Wikipedia's policy on article titles.
  • Oppose. I'm not convinced that either is "clearly the more popular term". I see a lot of hits in the "punch card" g-hit results that have nothing to do with the computer cards (like a bunch of stuff on the musician Old Punch Card and information about U.S.-style "punch card" ballots). Since the name of the article has been stable since 2006, the difference is so minor, and they both seem to be acceptable and in wide use, I would hesitate to move it at this point (though it probably could be without it being a big deal at all). Other WP articles also use "punched card", such as computer programming in the punched card era (though this hasn't been consistent over time, but now it seems to finally be). Good Ol’factory (talk) 07:48, 12 January 2011 (UTC)
Try adding some terms to your search to eliminate the false positives. I did (see below) and punch card still came out on top. --Kvng (talk) 15:06, 12 January 2011 (UTC)
Ah yes. Thanks. Not overwhelming, but it does seem to be "more" common on the internet. Good Ol’factory (talk) 01:05, 13 January 2011 (UTC)
Though Tassedethe has some interesting google scholar results below, which flip the results completely. Good Ol’factory (talk) 04:30, 13 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Weak support. Reverse ENGVAR violation. Marcus Qwertyus 09:03, 12 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Support. Article name should adhere to WP:ENGVAR. Punch card is the American term the rest of the article uses American English. It is not unusual for technical articles to be untidy for 4 years. It is not too late to fix. --Kvng (talk) 15:06, 12 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Oppose. IBM, an American company, used "punched-card" in its manuals here in America, so this is not an English-American spelling issue. As I pointed out above, "punch card" was widely used (it was just easier to say and by the way "punch card" ballots used the cards we're talking about) as was "IBM card" (even if they weren't made by IBM) and both deserve mention as a variant, but IBM invented punched card data processing and dominated the industry, so its spelling should be considered authoritative.--agr (talk) 14:27, 12 January 2011 (UTC)
    • We generally prefer popular to authoritative usage when choosing titles. Powers T 15:02, 12 January 2011 (UTC)
    • If you can offer a citation for your IBM "punched-cards" claim, that may convince me. Google says +IBM +"punch card":462,000 results, +IBM +"punched card":294,000 results. --Kvng (talk) 15:06, 12 January 2011 (UTC)
      • From WP:NAMES: "Articles are normally titled using the name which is most frequently used to refer to the subject of the article in English-language reliable sources. This includes usage in the sources used as references for the article." Most of the sources we cite in this article use "punched card." All the IBM manuals I looked at use "IBM card" or "punched card" (and I have quite a few). There are hundreds more at "" --agr (talk) 19:38, 12 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Support; more common term and WP:RETAIN supported. Powers T 15:02, 12 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Support. It's the name normally used; "punched card" is a slightly illogical hypercorrection. −
  • Oppose GScholar hits has about 14,600 for punched card vs about 11,800 for punch card. If you limit it to titles only it is 591 to 266 in favor of punched card. If you add IBM to the search term 'punched card' still comes out top: 5070 to 3420. The article has been stable at the title for >4years and I don't see anything to suggest that punch card is more obviously the 'correct' name. Tassedethe (talk) 04:21, 13 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Oppose "Punched card" is far more common in actual usage, I would suppose hyper-correction would be "punchable card". Rich Farmbrough, 14:00, 13 January 2011 (UTC).
  • Support. I've heard it as "punch card" for my entire life, and had never heard "punched card" before this discussion.--Mike Selinker (talk) 12:45, 15 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Oppose very strongly, with a great source My source is "FORTRAN IV Programming" by Robert Steven Ledley, published by McGraw -Hill in 1966, pages 30 and 31 for the first mentions. It was my first programming textbook. (And yes, I'm a hoarder, so I still have it!) This is from the time when such cards were used. The ONLY names used were punched card, or simply card as an abbreviation (as in card reader). Obviously punched card is the term I have personally used since that time. I have never used punch card. I suspect punch card is just a distortion based on people mis-hearing the correct name. I'm happy to add my source to the article. HiLo48 (talk) 09:37, 17 January 2011 (UTC)
It's easy to find sources either way. Try Googling ' "punch card"' versus ' "punch card"'. The latter has slightly more hits. −Woodstone (talk) 15:23, 17 January 2011 (UTC)
I know that I have more such sources. I can dig them up if you like. The real point is that what I have posted completely negates some of the Support posts above, such as "I've heard it as "punch card" for my entire life, and had never heard "punched card" before this discussion", "It's the name normally used; "punched card" is a slightly illogical hypercorrection" and "Punch card is the American term". Doesn't leave many valid supporting arguments at all apart from "more common", and that is always difficult to prove. HiLo48 (talk) 17:52, 17 January 2011 (UTC)
Would it not strike you as odd to place an order for a box of "punched cards" for punching your program into? That's why the name "punched card" is slightly illogical. The cards may be punched or not, depending on their life cycle state. Before and after punching they can correctly be called punch cards. −Woodstone (talk) 17:52, 18 January 2011 (UTC)
No, it certainly wouldn't strike me as odd, because punched card is the only name I have ever known them as. But I will agree with you that the English language is sometimes (often?) illogical. When I want to bathe I use a bathroom, but Americans go there when they want to relieve themselves. (I use a toilet for that purpose.) HiLo48 (talk) 21:32, 18 January 2011 (UTC)
Peeing in the empty bathtub has a long and noble history. Good Ol’factory (talk) 23:39, 18 January 2011 (UTC)
Which ignores my post (and others) above that show the application of such logic to language to be irrelevant. HiLo48 (talk) 00:33, 19 January 2011 (UTC)
Seeing that Googling shows a 4 to 1 majority for "punch card" over "punched card" together with the illogical name should tip the balance for the move. −Woodstone (talk) 09:07, 19 January 2011 (UTC)
Google hits are a very sloppy way of measuring common usage, and languages ARE illogical. I suspect mis-hearing, and an attempt to apply logic where it may not exist are the real problems here. HiLo48 (talk) 11:20, 19 January 2011 (UTC)
Languages are sloppy. Google hits are a very good way of measuring common usage, what else do they measure? — Preceding unsigned comment added by Pantergraph (talkcontribs)
They measure the number of articles where Google reports that search string to be found. Interpreting that number to mean something else can be very dangerous. HiLo48 (talk) 21:37, 19 January 2011 (UTC)
Aka "common usage". Interpreting that term to mean something else can be very dangerous. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Pantergraph (talkcontribs)
As mentioned above, in this case it's a very sloppy measure if just the raw google data is taken, since many of the google hits are referring to U.S. election "punch card" ballots and retail "punch card" loyalty cards, which are different topics entirely. For example, a google search for "punch card"+election gets over half a million hits. Good Ol’factory (talk) 03:01, 20 January 2011 (UTC)
It is the same technology — Preceding unsigned comment added by Pantergraph (talkcontribs)
Well, sometimes it is, but often not—especially for retailers, for example. Good Ol’factory (talk) 05:20, 20 January 2011 (UTC)
I had a job once where we clocked on and off. The card we put in the machine was called a punch card by some. It didn't have holes in it and never went near a computer. HiLo48 (talk) 05:39, 20 January 2011 (UTC)
The term is a holdover from the prior technology which had holes. They didn't call it a punched card because no one ever called anything that. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Pantergraph (talkcontribs)
If you are going to comment, could you please sign your comments by adding ~~~~ at the end? I grow tired of doing it for you. Good Ol’factory (talk) 23:00, 20 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Support I have never heard of "punched card", only "punch card". –CWenger (talk) 17:39, 20 January 2011 (UTC)
I get a bit annoyed with narrow perspective, pure OR posts like that once a discussion like this has been going for some time, and considerable material has been presented showing that the expression a poster personally has "never heard of" has been widely used. It says more about the poster than the topic. HiLo48 (talk) 22:51, 20 January 2011 (UTC)
One could argue a response like that says something about you as well... Also, is OR really banned on talk pages? Wouldn't even traffic statistics, which are very relevant to move discussions, be considered OR? –CWenger (talk) 05:34, 26 January 2011 (UTC)
To me, rather than being an OR problem, it's the purely-personal-experience-anecdotal-evidence type of comment that I find unhelpful. Users are free to say whatever they want, of course, though I find some comments more helpful and persuasive than others. Good Ol’factory (talk) 05:57, 26 January 2011 (UTC)
Agreed, I admit it is a lazy argument, but given all the discussion above I just went with a personal opinion rather than trying to rehash points that have already been made. I personally think people should be allowed to just vote if they want without explaining their opinion. –CWenger (talk) 16:45, 26 January 2011 (UTC)
Fair enough. I agree that sometimes we get sloppy in our "voting" especially in extended discussions. Good Ol’factory (talk) 22:59, 26 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Oppose I am old enough to remember when they were used and they were always called "punched cards". Peterkingiron (talk) 21:45, 22 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Oppose per agr's reference to WP:NAMES above. --Waldir talk 19:30, 23 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Oppose. I'm always surprised when I come to discussions like this one where common naming is at issue and analysis of search result numbers is almost entirely focused on web searches, when books and news archive searches are far more weighted toward reliable sources. Searching Google Books returns 46,000 results for <"punched cards" ibm> over 14,100 results for <"punch cards" ibm>. Without ibm it's 203,000 to 91,600 favoring punched cards. This disparity is something of a wash with the new results, which favors the target, though not by so clear a margin (669 vs. 1,400). If you restrict the Google Books search to books published between 2000 and 2010 to see more current usage, the results are about a wash (with or without ibm): 2,230 to 2,200, and 7,910 to 9,580. <"punched cards" eniac> verses <"punch cards" eniac> also favors the current title 4,440 to 1,110. I personally have never heard of punched card though I bet my father has, and I am ignoring that irrelevancy in favor of reliable sources, as all the I've never heard of it grounds for the move should be entirely ignored. The usage arguments also appear of topic. We are not here about a descriptive title. So based on Scholar, Books and News results, the current title is favored, and with the disfavored web search put in the mix, the best you can say is that it's a wash. Certainly punch card is not shown to be "obviously the most frequently used for the topic".--Fuhghettaboutit (talk) 01:59, 27 January 2011 (UTC)
Very persuasive arguments. For the benefit of consensus, I can come around to this. --Kvng (talk) 14:28, 27 January 2011 (UTC)


Any additional comments:
  • Comment—this article started at "punch card" and was renamed to match British spelling apparently... which seems to violate WP:ENGVAR/WP:RETAIN. (talk) 05:15, 12 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Comment—The usual usage here in England is "punched card" for the computer card, "punch card" for a means of clocking-in and clocking-out at factories. Anthony Appleyard (talk) 11:10, 12 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Comment— is correct that this article started at "punch card" or "punchcard" (I forget which—I could dig it up, but it's not worth it), and in 2010 or so it was renamed "punched card" by a well-meaning person whose epistemology of language falls strongly on the linguistically prescriptive rather than linguistically descriptive end of the spectrum. I'm with the people on the middle of the spectrum. It's OK to enforce useful precision in language, but there's a limit once you're trying to tell (half or more of) the world that their normal, innocuous natural language is "unacceptable". In my opinion, the choice among "punched card", "punch card", or "punchcard" is a mere coin flip; they're synonyms, and the distinctions don't matter enough to worry about. Whichever pagename we choose, someone else will wish that we'd chosen the other. So it's not worth worrying much about; may as well pick one and stick with it. As for which one you guys pick, I'll leave it to you. — ¾-10 15:22, 12 January 2011 (UTC)
    • Perhaps a bigger problem with the earlier "prescriptive" edits was the removal of the synonyms from the article lede. I put them back. I left out "punchcard" which is less common and still mentioned in the nomenclature section. If anyone objects strongly, they can add it.--agr (talk) 12:31, 13 January 2011 (UTC)
      • I don't object to your change, but why was it problematic having the "(also known by [[#Nomenclature|various synonyms]])" jump-down link? Maybe people feel that it gave less weight to the other names? I don't feel that way, but it's fine either way. — ¾-10 01:31, 14 January 2011 (UTC)
        • It's standard Wikipedia style to give common synonyms in the first sentence. See, e.g. traffic light. And where there seems to be strong attachments to particular variants, having them up front is best.--agr (talk) 03:19, 14 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Note Google numbers are often misleading, partly because they treat terms as synonyms sometimes, partly for unknown reasons. The massive 300k/100k results for IBM + given above reduce to 780/710 if you actually list the hits. Rich Farmbrough, 14:06, 13 January 2011 (UTC).
  • Comment I'm in Australia using Australian English and my "history of IT" textbook says "punch-card". (Not voting support or oppose as I think either name works.) Orderinchaos 13:31, 14 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Comment It appears that more recent sources prefer "punch card". Perhaps this has changed over time and there is no right answer. In which case I would think, as a service to modern readers, we'd bias towards convention used in modern reliable sources. --Kvng (talk) 19:21, 17 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Comment Looking at the many survey entries. I know some of the discussants here won't want to hear it, but here it is anyway: if you're searching for the "right answer", there isn't one. Natural language is only a plurality of conventions. Nothing more carved in stone than that. If "chazwozzers" became a widespread synonym tomorrow, and stayed that way, then "chazwozzers" would become one of the synonyms listed, too. I know it breaks hearts to hear it, but it's the truth: it doesn't matter whether we name this page with the "-ed" ending or not. It simply doesn't matter. The only thing that would matter would be if someone tried to remove one of the synonyms and pretend it didn't exist. As long as they're all listed, there's no point in changing which one is "honored" with the pagename. It's the same reason why the WP:ENGVAR guideline exists, and why we don't change "labour" to "labor" and back again 5 times per year. I'm not saying that this example is equally regional—I'm pointing out that it's equally arbitrary. You say /təˈmeɪtoʊ/, I say /təˈmɑːtoʊ/, Let's Call the Whole Thing Off. You could play ping-pong all day changing the name back and forth. No one's more correct than the other. Adieu, — ¾-10 02:00, 20 January 2011 (UTC)
  • That's all true. I have expressed some strong feelings here on what the original term was, based on the fact that I'm in my 60s and actually used punched cards daily in my profession for probably 10 years. It would be an interesting exercise to learn the ages of other posters here, and what they were doing when punched cards were all the rage. Of course that's unlikely to happen, or make any difference to what we finally do here. I know language evolves. But it's kind of odd to think of it evolving to change to name of something that's no longer in use. HiLo48 (talk) 02:16, 20 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Just for the record, I'm 61, and have punched punch cards extensively in my younger years. I have travelled around with decks of punch cards in my luggage to implement programs abroad (later with tapes). I never used the name punched card. So the naming does not seem to be age determined. −Woodstone (talk) 09:13, 20 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Curious. What country? What brand computing environment? Mine was IBM in Australia, but obviously primarily US influenced. HiLo48 (talk) 10:47, 20 January 2011 (UTC)
Language changes all the time. Probably changes more on the dead than the living because the dead are not around to correct you. Do we want to title the article based on what the cards were called in the 1950's or do we go by what they're called now? --Kvng (talk) 14:50, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
Well, I'm still alive and my printed source (quoted above) still exists, and that source and my experience were from the 1960s and 70s, not the 50s. But, as I also said above, it's kind of odd to think of language evolving to change to name of something that's no longer in use. Surely that would simply mean that people today have got it wrong. HiLo48 (talk) 16:36, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
Point well taken about that. It's interesting because their name (well, their various names) are still part of a living language although the cards themselves are basically just museum pieces now (albeit non-rare ones, that is, plenty of people have examples left as mementos of earlier days). Which is different from a dead language/living language divide. (For example, whatever the Latin word for wheat was, an Italian today with Roman ancestors uses a "different" word for wheat (although probably cognate descended from the Latin root); but that example is a different animal, because there's a divide there between one language and another (Italian vs Latin), even though the one is the cognate successor of the other. It would be linguistically interesting to study other examples closer to this one, within the same language, stemming from technological obsolescence. How far of a retrospective horizon can retronymy have before most speakers would make a clear-consensus distinction between "what they called it then and what we call it now are as apples and oranges to each other" (on one hand) versus "it's all just a pile of synonyms" (on the other hand)? A deep question with no easy answer, no doubt. "Horseless carriage"/"car" and "phonograph"/"record player" are other instances that are in the same neighborhood linguistically, although each instance has a certain amount of unique angle to it (e.g., one can't necessarily say that any lesson extrapolated from the "phonograph" instance applies, ipso facto, to any other instance). In the instance of "punched card" versus "punch card", both of those variants were around "back in the day", so they're both "vintage" names; although it's a good philosophical question whether we could ever accept a neologistic name like "chazwozzer" as the "main" name. I think it depends on each person's epistemology of language. Someone who feels in their bones that linguistic prescription represents True Correctness (which many people do) would never accept it. Anyway, I realize that none of this is applicable to the pagenaming discussion (so no need to point that out in exasperation, anybody). I'm just riffing on the linguistic question posed by HiLo48. Fun to ponder regardless of whether it's "academic or applied". — ¾-10 23:06, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
And some interesting riffing it is too. I'm no fan of linguistic prescription, but I cannot help myself responding when folks suggest that my recollections, for which I have printed backup, are wrong. I know they are right for my little part of history and the world. There may have been contemporaneous usage of punch card. I wasn't aware of it. The question remains. Do we change a genuinely correct name from the time, to what people now wrongly think it was? HiLo48 (talk) 23:29, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
Your stridency is showing. Punched card indicates state; punch card indicates use; the latter is a better name, regardless of chronology. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Pantergraph (talkcontribs)

[edit conflict]

[replying to HiLo48]

Well, evolving from indifference to a qualified opinion, I would agree with you then that no, we should not move this page to a different pagename. Not because the term "punch card" didn't exist in the 1950s through 1970s (Google Books and Google Ngram Viewer show that it did, although it may have been a mostly colloquial-register variant at the time, making it into writing only when no prescriptive editor was around to change it to the -ed form). My reason for agreeing on "no move" is that moving it will not result in any "more correct" result, and it would grate on the nerves of those who feel that the -ed form is a better choice for the pagename (if not the only acceptable choice). And there's no good reason to grate on anyone's nerves like that, given that there's no compelling value in a pagename move at this point. By the way, I think that Pantergraph may have been being facetious/sarcastic with his "because no one ever called anything that" comment. And I get the impression that CWenger probably commented without reading the existing discussion closely enough (a bit of RTFA/RTFQ there). So I wouldn't take those comments to heart as an insult to your intelligence or anything. (Some things that the internet never lacks are sarcasm and "drive-by opinions" (chiming in without giving due attention to the original post/article/question/discussion.) Water off a duck's back! :-) — ¾-10 23:59, 21 January 2011 (UTC)

BTW, reading now Pantergraph's recent comment ("Punched card indicates state; punch card indicates use; the latter is a better name, regardless of chronology.") A perfectly fair logical angle. But I still think no pagename move is needed, because there can never be consensus on which one is "better" (each side has its own logic). So may as well not play ping-pong with it. Ta, — ¾-10 00:05, 22 January 2011 (UTC)
BTW, one would think from all my commenting here that I cared deeply about which pagenaming choice "won" the discussion. I actually don't; I just find it interesting to analyze the elephant in response to the various comments here. — ¾-10 00:09, 22 January 2011 (UTC)
I'm not doubting anyone's recollection or sources. I'm just suggesting that the more appropriate title may be the terminology used by today's sources; the article is, afterall, written for the benefit of today's readers. We can even write this into the lead e.g. Punch cards, originally known more commonly as punched cards... Of course what I suggest is WP:OR and we can't do this until it can be WP:VERIFYed. --Kvng (talk) 16:02, 22 January 2011 (UTC)
In response to that I will again ask the broader question (which could apply to any topic)... Do we change a genuinely correct name from the time to what people now wrongly think it was? HiLo48 (talk) 22:27, 22 January 2011 (UTC)
For the specific case of "punch card" (="punch-card"), I would point out (as I think you also agree) that the "wrongly" part doesn't apply, because the name "punch card" is vintage (not a recent coinage) (as shown in the corpus by Google Books and Google Ngram Viewer) and has never truly been "wrong"—just considered wrong by some people. As for the broader level ("could apply to any topic"), I would say two things: (1) We would never change a Wikipedia pagename to a neologism that was clearly known to be a recently invented, made-up name. (2) But if it were a neologism that genuinely became a valid name, then yes, I believe a day would come when we might do so. However, the very existence of the internet and widespread literacy makes it very unlikely that that will happen going forward. I'll give a real example from the linguistic history of English. The singular form of "pea" was once "pease". But there came a time when it ended up changed to "pea" by way of back-formation because people thought that the "s" sound was tied to the plural "-s" (although in the case of "pease" it actually wasn't). So it was that a pease came to be called a pea in English, on a majority, consensus basis. (This happened hundreds of years ago, mind you.) And today the Wikipedia pagename is "pea"—as it ought to be, based on what the word is today by universal consensus. The difference between the "pease" case (which happened hundreds of years ago, when most English speakers were not literate) and any such change that might happen today, is that today most English speakers are literate, so a case like pease-to-pea is very unlikely to happen anymore (because most people would see it happening and stop it), whereas back then, it could happen over a generation or two with few people realizing that a neologistic change was taking place. Hope this is found interesting. Regards, — ¾-10 03:15, 23 January 2011 (UTC)
I'll attempt to answer HiLo48's question directly. I can't make any claims about what things were like in 1919 or are like in countries other than the US. I can make a claim about what all my dictionaries say. Simon & Schuster's Webster's New World Dictionary, Second College Edition lists only "punch card." The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition Unabridged lists "punch card" as the main entry, and then says "Also, punchcard, punched card." My Merriam-Webster (Encyclopedia Britannica) dictionary, also reflected at, has "punch card" as the main entry, and then says "called also Hollerith card, punched card." Only my Chambers 21st Century—a British English dictionary—has "punched card" first, and then it says "(especially U.S.) punch card." So from the dictionary point of view, in the United States, right now, this thing is called a punch card. Whether we want to reflect that is up to us. But it's not "wrong," because all of my U.S. dictionaries say it's right.--Mike Selinker (talk) 05:43, 23 January 2011 (UTC)
Many thanks, Mike, for providing the dictionary citations. I agree completely with what you said. IMHO, the pagename and opening sentence of the lede as they now stand already reflect the best that can be done on this topic (include all synonyms in the opening sentence; list the two most important ones first; pick one of the first two arbitrarily to be the pagename), other than to take some of the info and citations here at Talk and cite them as refs in the article's nomenclature section. I may do the latter (nomenclature section beef-up with refs) if the spirit moves me. Cheers, — ¾-10 18:08, 23 January 2011 (UTC)
The above discussion is preserved as an archive of a requested move. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on this talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

Category:Punch cardEdit

Category:Punch card has been nominated to be renamed. (talk) 04:51, 3 February 2011 (UTC)

Cultural impactEdit

When I was growing up in the mid-70s punchcards were already on their way out. Still, I remember how used cards were incorporated into arts and crafts projects--I remember making Christmas wreaths in cub scouts and somewhere there were folks making lampshades. My father coached high school football and I remember that the confetti people threw at the games had tiny numbers printed on it--they were the bits that had been punched out to make the holes in the punch card. I suppose they were collected and made some companies a little extra money. PurpleChez (talk) 19:53, 13 March 2011 (UTC)

I used to have a ballot for the 1969 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which I didn't submit but retained as a bookmark. This was the year that the vote was returned to "the fans" (i.e., the general public) after a decade or more of the vote being restricted to the players. You could pick these up at drug stores and such, so ballot-box stuffing was still possible, and indeed practised, though on a smaller scale than before. It was a standard 80-column Hollerith card, with text printed on it to identify the marks. The voter was expected to punch out holes next to the names of his/her choices. Of course, the tabulating machine was programmed to identify the candidate via the row and column positioning of the punch. Years later I ran the card through a keypunch in the computer lab just to prove that it would fit. This might be a good example of the popular use of such cards. WHPratt (talk) 12:45, 23 June 2017 (UTC) Edit: Okay, the picture does show a 1973 ballot, but I'll bet that the 1969 card was of similar structure. WHPratt (talk) 12:49, 23 June 2017 (UTC)

It may just be my, but all I'm seeing is "403 Forbidden". Martin of Sheffield (talk) 13:00, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
That's what I got at home, though it worked at the office! Sorry about that. Just do a Google on "1969 Major League All Star Ballot" and select "Images." You'll see several such ballots. WHPratt (talk) 00:25, 24 June 2017 (UTC)

IBM and the HolocaustEdit

Why theres no mention about the punched cards that the nazis in collaboration with IBM used to classifie the communists, jews, gypsies and others. This was one of the first apllications of this technology to track the victims of holocaust. Read: IBM and the Holocaust —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 13:41, 27 March 2011 (UTC)

Fountain programsEdit

The metal plates used to "program" water fountains, look like large punch cards. The ones I've seen are round, and somewhat smaller than a manhole cover. If looms are included, why not fountains? Tragic romance (talk) 19:07, 31 October 2011 (UTC)

Interesting. Worth mentioning, IMO, even if only as a minor point buried within the article. It also makes my mind turn (no pun) to the cam drums on music boxes. A metal disc storing the program for a fountain seems directly analogous, if the "reader" is a cam follower that opens and closes water valves directly. (Is it?) This is an interesting train of thought because it makes one ponder the essential similarity between punch cards and music box cams. The one differentiation that one can make is that punch cards fed data to a processor that could then do math upon it, whereas solely mechanical things like music boxes did not do any processing. But both media store data as holes in a sheet of material. Interesting. — ¾-10 01:43, 2 November 2011 (UTC)

age of cardEdit

In the section "IBM 80 column..." there is a photo of a card with the caption: "A general-purpose punched card from late-twentieth century." It looks to me that it is more likely to be much older, even late nineteenth century. Bubba73 You talkin' to me? 23:59, 25 November 2011 (UTC)

That section is about the IBM card designed in 1928. While it may indeed be old - as it appears to be, it is no older than 1928! (talk) 10:24, 15 December 2011 (UTC)
And the card in question has rounded corners, a relatively late innovation (~1960s, IIRC).--agr (talk) 16:25, 15 December 2011 (UTC) Here is a photo from the 1950s showing square cut punched cards of the era: File:Keypunching at Texas A&M2.jpg.--agr (talk) 21:36, 15 December 2011 (UTC) And a ref from our article that is definitive: (talk) 17:07, 10 January 2012 (UTC)

Mohawk Data SciencesEdit

Re: Mohawk Data Sciences introduced the first magnetic tape encoder in 1965, a system marketed as a keypunch replacement which retained the 80-character record and was immediately successful.. It wasn't the first. See UNITYPER. (Nor was the original machine very successful, although the Computer History Museum says it was.) --John Nagle (talk) 07:28, 28 January 2012 (UTC)

Good catch. I did not know about the Unityper. It seems Mohawk Data Sciences improved on that somehow (they got a patent for theirs) but I haven't seen a source that says how they improved on Unityper. So I added mention of Unityper and toned down the statement about MDS until a reference can be found that says more precisely what their specific innovation was. Wbm1058 (talk) 18:08, 23 February 2012 (UTC)

"Do not fold, spindle or mutilate" a "motto"Edit

I saw the word "motto" in this sentence and thought to change it to "meme". But I checked out the citation for the sentence and it makes no mention of the phrase's cultural aspect and especially doesn't refer to it as a motto. What do you guys think? Is this something that needs to be more specifically cited or is it common knowledge? Makes me ponder the lifetime of common knowledge. How long until the common knowledge of the 80s and 90s is no longer common knowledge? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:28, 13 October 2012 (UTC)

It certainly is common knowledge among those who were adults in the 1960s and 70s. "Motto" doesn't seem to be the right name for the expression, and "Meme" doesn't work, because the word didn't exist then. I'm desperately trying to come up with the right word. Might take it to the Language reference desk. HiLo48 (talk) 05:47, 13 October 2012 (UTC)
I did just that, and came up with catchphrase to replace motto. What do you think? HiLo48 (talk) 21:51, 13 October 2012 (UTC)
Sounds good to me. Just wanted to add, though, in reference to "... and 'meme' doesn't work, because the word didn't exist then": One certainly could identify memes from eras before that name for them was coined, just as one could talk about bacteria, or trees, that existed before humans coined the names "bacteria" or "trees". However, I agree that "catchphrase" works just fine. — ¾-10 16:16, 14 October 2012 (UTC)

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Termnal screensEdit

The article suggests that the 80 column card led to the use of 80 column wide terminals. It seems to me about as likely that 80 columns fit nicely at 0.1in spacing across the US letter format paper.[1] Or maybe that 80 column wide paper led to 80 column punched cards? Gah4 (talk) 19:02, 9 September 2015 (UTC)

No comments on this one. I suspect that 80 column (after margins) typewriter pages came before 80 column punched cards, and later lead to 80 column computer printers and terminals. It is a convenient width for human readers, not a descendant of 80 column cards. Gah4 (talk) 20:06, 15 June 2017 (UTC)
It is much more likely that terminals took their size from punched cards than from a paper size that was not used in the computer industry. Standard paper width in the computer industry during mainframe and minicomputer era was 132 column sprocket fed. The alternative to punched cards were initially "teletype-type" typewriters which also used 132-column output. You wrote in 80 column, then compilers and linkers would add source line and variable information in the remaining 52 columns when you got your job back from the system. As VTs started to become more common they were viewed as "glass teletypes", remember this was at a type when even VTs used line editing, not whole screen. Later VTs like the DEC VT100 and its descendants gave you an ability to switch between 80 or 132 to match card and paper sizes. Indeed even when lasers started to come in during the late '80s they were often configured to print in landscape mode so that 132 column output was rendered properly. I suspect it was the rise of the cheap 80-column dot-matrix printers and the pricier daisy wheel printers coupled to PCs that really shifted the industry and brought secretarial attitudes to DP. Martin of Sheffield (talk) 20:53, 15 June 2017 (UTC)
Printing terminals trace back to predecessors of Teletype earlier than 80 column punched cards. The pictures look like 80 column width. The Teletype article doesn't indicate 132 columns until the sprocket feed model 43 in 1977. So, glass teletypes would have inherited the 80 column width though the whole line of Teletypes and predecessors, and card width through a similar lineage. Gah4 (talk) 22:13, 15 June 2017 (UTC)
The IBM golfballs I used in 1976 were 132 column sprocket fed, as were the DEC LA36s introduced in 1974. Interesting though the earlier DEC LA30 was only 80 column. Smaller VAX and PDP installations often used LA120s as system printers if the cost of an LP25 could not be justified. The LA36s were a right pain to use, at 30 character per second you could easily type faster than the computer, whereas an LA120 on a 9,600 baud serial line at least kept up with you. Martin of Sheffield (talk) 22:31, 15 June 2017 (UTC)
Yes, but 10 character/inch typewriters and 8.5inch wide paper trace back earlier than the 1928 punched card. It seems to me more likely that later terminals trace to those than to the card width, and that the 80 column card, also traces back through those. In other words, 80 columns is convenient for human readers and writers in general, which lead to a variety of 80 column wide media. Interestingly, from letter paper this history of the 8.5 inch seems to have been lost, but likely traces back to hand made paper. It seems close to the optimal width for human vision at a comfortable reading distance. Also, 80 columns is about the resolution for higher quality CRT displays from the beginning of the glass terminal era. Even higher resolution might have been available at much higher cost. Larger CRTs could give a larger display, but about the same pixel width. Broadcast television has much lower resolution, giving the 40 character width of early Apple displays, when used through a video modulator. The Processor Technology SOL and VDM-1 use a 64 character wide screen, possibly as it makes addressing easier. Gah4 (talk) 23:18, 15 June 2017 (UTC)
You're quite right about the TVs. I had a ZX80 and later a Spectrum and they used 32 columns with the characters displayed as 8x8 pixel cells. I'll also accept that paper width may have influenced the card width (though I'd like to see evidence for that), but you need to remember that early terminals were used exclusively by DP staff and programmers, not by ordinary folk reading text. 80 is also way to convenient as a number! A typist setting up her paper would typically use at least 1/2" margins which puts the line length at 75 characters. 80 is more the sort of number an engineer might land on. I've just had a look at my old NAG mark 9 mini-manual from 1981. It is printed using a typewriter font (as was typical of computer manuals at that date) with 1" margins. My copy is on A4, but translating that to US paper sizes would indicate a 65 character line. Using my printout ruler the lines are formatted with 5 characters for the paragraph number and the longest line is 59 characters giving 64 total. A Calcomp manual from 1985 is also 5+59 but this time set on US letter paper (8.5").

There is a lot of speculation here, but it ignores the direct relation between the screen width of computer terminals and punched cards: a major early use for the early video terminals was in keypunch replacement via key-to-tape and, later, key to disk systems. By the 1960s, computers had largely replaced Unit record equipment and punch cards were mainly used for data entry in batch processing systems. The day's transactions were keypunched, verified and the cards were then read and written onto magnetic tape, often on a smaller computer such as an IBM 1401. The data on the tape was sorted on the computer (using several tape drives as intermediate storage) and then used to update the master file tape and produce reports. Key-to-tape systems, e.g. by Mohawk Data Sciences and Inforex, replaced a group of keypunches and verifiers with a set of computer terminals connected to a central computer that had an IBM-compatible 9 track tape drive. There was a big pent up demand for such systems, but early video terminals were much more expensive than keypunch machines, even including the ongoing cost of the cards. The breakthrough was integrated circuits, which allowed video terminals that were inexpensive enough to compete. A video terminal that displayed fewer than 80 characters would miss out on this major market, having more than 80 characters increased costs and offered little advantage at first. Wikipedia does not yet cover this era in computer history well. --agr (talk) 10:59, 16 June 2017 (UTC)

Yes, lots of speculation an no WP:RS that 80 column terminals followed directly from 80 column cards, instead of both having a common origin, or that 80 just makes sense. It is a little easier to build 64 character width, as it can be easily counted with a six bit counter, but it is just a little bit too small. I suspect that many Teletype machines are 72, which with margins is a reasonable value. The choices for terminals might have been 72 or 80, and maybe card width was enough to tip toward 80. Or maybe the extra ability, and market competition led to 80, if the cost difference isn't all that much. The IBM 2260, a video terminal from 1964, started out at 40 characters wide, with the model 3 at 80. Yes, within IBM 80 is a special number, but it isn't so obvious outside. Gah4 (talk) 20:33, 16 June 2017 (UTC)
If someone today talks about sending a message in 140 characters, everyone knows they are talking about Twitter. No one would suggest that they had some independent reason for picking 140. Twitter has only been in existence for 11 years. The 80-column punched card was in existence for over 40 years when computer terminals were being developed and totally dominated data processing for most of that time. The 80 character format was as closely identified with punched cards as 140 is with Twitter, even more so. The difference between a 64 counter and an 80 or 72 counter is one flip-flop and one and gate, a trivial cost even in the discrete transistor era. The high cost item for raster video terminals was sufficient memory to store all the characters on the screen. BTW, here is a source for the Datapoint 3300 having a 72 character line width to be compatible with Teletype terminals it intended to replace.[2] The later Datapoint 2200 model went to 80. --agr (talk) 10:48, 22 June 2017 (UTC)
I have known that there was a reason behind the 140 character limit for Twitter, based on a limit for SMS, but didn't know more than that. It seems, from the SMS page that the limit traces back to GSM in 1984, at 128 bytes, or 160 seven bit ASCII characters. (I don't know about 160 vs. 140.) That traces back to the length of typical postcards and Telex messages. So, someone tried to understand a convenient limit for human messages. Card width and terminal width are different, as we are allowed to use multiple lines. There are widths that are more optimal for human vision, that are used for printing books. If you make the line too long, it is too hard to find the beginning of the next line, following the text back. That seems to be around 65 to 75. The column width for newspapers is closer to 40, maybe it is easier to follow the flow with the smaller print typical for newspaper articles. Screen memory, and its cost, has interesting effects. The VDM-1 (popular S100 bus display device) and it successor, the SOL terminal, have a 16x64 display, using 1Kx1 SRAMs for display. If you increase to 24 lines, and 2K characters, you could have 85 character lines, and with 25 lines (24 plus a special message line) you get 81. It seems, then, that there are multiple reasons for 80 instead of 72. A 24x80 display also works well with video monitors available in the 1970s, for somewhat reasonable prices. Higher resolution cost a lot more. And as I noted before, 80 characters at 0.10in pitch fits well across on 8.5in wide page, with some margins. It seems to me, then, that it is the combination of all these reasons, that 80 characters became popular for later displays. Gah4 (talk) 08:31, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
So far, I don't see much discussion about where the 80 column card came from. It seems that they took the original size of the Hollerith card, and put more, narrower, columns onto it. Narrower columns make it harder to squeeze the read electronics (or optics) in that space, accurately enough, especially for the technology of the time. Gah4 (talk) 08:31, 23 June 2017 (UTC)

I found a source and added a paragraph on how the 80-column format came to be. Note that card readers at the time used wire "brushes" to read the cards. As the card passed under the brushes, the wires could fall into a hole and make contact with the metal surface below. A rectangular hole is better suited for this method of reading. As for the the source of the 140/160 character limit, our SMS article makes clear that it was a technical limitation: "However, it was necessary to limit the length of the messages to 128 bytes (later improved to 160 seven-bit characters) so that the messages could fit into the existing signalling formats. Based on his personal observations and on analysis of the typical lengths of postcard and Telex messages, Hillebrand argued that 160 characters was sufficient to express most messages succinctly."--agr (talk) 12:15, 30 June 2017 (UTC)

BTW, the reason for 80-column screens is based on software compatibility, not hardware. The first terminals were designed to exactly replace the functionality of a card reader, and used the same interpreter software; the format of a line on the terminal was identical to the text of a punch card, even including things like starting with "$JOB" and "$END" to distinguish command "cards" from data "cards" (each line on a on a terminal was even called a "card" for a while). So, since cards were limited to 80-columns, the terminals duplicated this limitation. Note that terminals were generally not 8.5 inches wide, so 80-char terminals had nothing to do with 10-chars-per-inch directly -- only indirectly via punch cards. Unfortunately, I have no RS for this; I just experienced this transition first-hand, working on some very old computers when I was very young. --A D Monroe III (talk) 18:12, 30 June 2017 (UTC)
You don't say which year that was, but the Baudot code, from which the term baud was derived, goes back to 1874. See teleprinter for the history of printing terminals in the late 1800's and early 1900's, and finally leading to the Teletype Corporation in 1928. As far as I know, 8.5in paper and 10 characters/inch traces back pretty early, too. Many Teletype machines print 72 columns on 8.5 inch paper, leaving good sized margins. The IBM 2315 [4] printer, used as a console terminal on many IBM computers, seems to be 126 characters wide. Many IBM line printers print 132 columns (10cpi) across 14 inch (plus perforation) fan-fold paper. By the time that CRT terminals came along, there were a variety of printing terminals to emulate. The spot size of many monitors allowed for between about 64 and 80 characters across. Some early models were upper case only, with a 5x7 character cell. Later upper/lower case, 7x9 cell, plus descenders. (One popular character generator stores 7x9 (63 bits) plus one bit to lower the character two rows, for 64 bits/character. A convenient size, plus a small amount of extra logic.) And, as I mentioned above, with a 24 line display and 2K character display memory, 80 is a convenient width. Many DEC terminals are 24x80, with a 25th status line, for 2000 characters. With 2048 character memory, you could make a 24x85 screen, or 25x81. So, there were a variety of reasons for 80, and some for 72, and it might be that the 80 character card tipped the balance in the end. Each terminal company had to worry about the competition. If they tried to sell a 72 column terminal, and the competition had 80, they might lose out on some sales, even when the customers only needed 72. So, while 80 makes a lot of sense, matching card width, it isn't a direct path, and it might be hard to find a reliable source for the decisions of different CRT terminal companies, converging at 80. Gah4 (talk) 00:54, 1 July 2017 (UTC)
I'm not talking about the origins of 80-character punch cards, only that 80-character punch cards led to 80-character terminals -- that was the question at the start of this discussion. And, BTW, the story goes that punch card size was made to match 19th century paper currency size (8.5x3.5 inch), which was made to match 18th century bank-issued notes, which was made to match standard 17th century wax-sealed four-folded legal documents (8.5x14), which was made to match the size of the vellum used for royal and church documents of previous centuries, which was made from lambs for the finest skin, which yields a bit over 8.5x14 inches on average. So, the origin of 8.5 inch cards dates back a few thousand years to the domestication of sheep. But that's off-topic, and I wasn't involved in any of that. I can tell say the first computer terminals came directly from card readers -- nothing else. --A D Monroe III (talk) 02:52, 1 July 2017 (UTC)

This reminds me of the story tracing the size of the space shuttle solid rocket boosters to the width of roman chariots. It seems that it is convenient to standardize the chariot wheel spacing, as they then follow the ruts on the road from previous traffic. Not quite as obvious, this width lead to the rail spacing on railroads, though standardizing that wasn't quite that clear. And the space shuttle booster parts have to travel by rail. Following ruts in the road makes more sense then a standard printer width. (If you are just a little off, it will alternate with one wheel, and then the other, in the bottom of the rut.) Gah4 (talk) 00:54, 1 July 2017 (UTC)

Absolutely 80 column punch cards led to 80-column video terminals. With early electronics a power of 2 like 64 or 128 would have been chosen unless they had a really good reason for a harder number like 80.Spitzak (talk) 19:35, 21 November 2018 (UTC)


  1. ^ "Paper sizes".
  2. ^

Use in toysEdit

Weren't punched cards or tape used in some toys slightly before modern microelectronics? -- Beland (talk) 20:15, 26 September 2015 (UTC)

Other languagesEdit

Why can't I see links to another languages from English page? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:06, 1 November 2015 (UTC)


I believe there is a rule against discussions in comments in pages, so I am copying the discussion here:

<!-- note that (1) a hole punched to command a musical instrument is not digital -- and (2) Hollerith's first census cards were not all digital (source please?) -- hence "digital" deleted in this 1st pp --><!-- Response (1) yes, "presence of absence of holes in predefined positions" eliminates meaningful musical instruments. Fanfold [[Punched tape]] may have been the source of confusion. Enlarge the article's "dance organ" photo (which I'm about to delete!) to see "slots", not punches.  (2) Hollerith's cards were - and are - digital.  For example, marriage may not be digital, but you can count (digital) the holes for married. "Digital" restored in text above. -->

See digital signal and you will find that a signal with discrete values, but continuous in time is still digital. That is true, for example, for the holes in a player piano tape. The timing is arbitrary, but the key is either up or down, not in between. In digital signal processing, signals can be continuous or sampled (evaluated only at discrete times), and quantized or not (only discrete values, or a continuum of values). Gah4 (talk) 09:20, 27 April 2016 (UTC)

Agree; they aren't analog (with a range of narrow or wide values for the holes), so they're digital. --A D Monroe III (talk) 00:10, 15 June 2016 (UTC)
Hidden discussion removed from article. --A D Monroe III (talk) 17:06, 20 June 2016 (UTC)

Why is the punched card the size of the 1887 US dollar bill? - part 2.Edit

See Talk:Punched_card#Why_is_the_punched_card_the_size_of_the_1887_US_dollar_bill.3F

The following has been removed from the article - the main page is not the place for a discussion.

<!------ UNSOURCED text "Some...." deleted. Anyone who worked in a punched card environment - there are a few of us left - (and not as a programmer!) knows the readily available storage devices WERE THE CARTONS THE CARDS CAME IN. Look at photo "Cartons of Punched Cards ..." far below. ...Some surmise that the readily available storage devices for paper currency were commonsensically coopted to be used for the first storage of Hollerith cards.-----> <!---------- The following text is now discredited; see 'punched card' at ... a bit larger than the [[United States one-dollar bill]] ([[Silver certificate (United States)|silver certificates]]) at the time, because some existing storage and feeding devices could be adapted.<ref>Stanford Historic Displays at</ref> The [[United States one-dollar bill|dollar bill]] was reduced to its current size in 1929. The Columbia site also says Hollerith took advantage of available boxes designed to transport paper currency. ---->
  1. Did Hollerith envisage using currency handling eqipment and boxes for punched cards? Citations please.
  2. Smaller decks of cards were not kept in the large boxes (my personal experience) - citations for this also please.

Can we sort this out here, then update the main page accordingly. Martin of Sheffield (talk) 10:02, 16 March 2017 (UTC)

(per discussion on alt.folklore.computers, cards are not ascii, ebcdic, etc.)Edit

Someone noted: (per discussion on alt.folklore.computers, cards are not ascii, ebcdic, etc.) If a card contains only printable characters and blank space, I would 100% agree. EBCDIC defines 256 punch codes, such that rows 1 through 7 have zero or one punch, which conveniently leaves 256 combinations. There are some printable characters, and many control characters, that don't have a correspondence between ASCII and EBCDIC, and even less, any other punched card code. Seems to me that cards using the 256 codes, such as OS/360 and successor object programs, can reasonably said to be using EBCDIC. At the time when S/360, and EBCDIC, were being developed, there was a proposal for an ASCII-8 code. That is, an eight bit extension to ASCII that isn't just ASCII-7 in the first 128 positions. I believe that all 256 have defined punch codes. But the standard never was approved, and as far as I know, hardware never developed to use it. (Other than that S/360 machines can generate appropriate signs for decimal arithmetic and zones for UNPK. But that is only 10 of the 256 code points.) Gah4 (talk) 19:30, 21 March 2017 (UTC)

There is a direct mapping between later punched card codes and EBCDIC. See [5]. John Nagle (talk) 19:47, 21 March 2017 (UTC)
But are there other codes with 256 code points that map to 256 punch code points? I know that DEC sold card readers and card punches for some of their computers. Is there a mapping between the VAX/VMS character set and card punch code points? Gah4 (talk) 20:02, 21 March 2017 (UTC)

References for a 2017.6.30 edit to punched card. IBM name not on products until 1933Edit

Proceedings - American Gas Association, Volume 11 Amaerican Gas Association, incorporated, 1929

p.223 Each machine system possesses the advantage of certain mechanical refinements, but the essential difference between the two punched card billing systems is that under the Hollerith method the tabulating cards are first punched with all the billing data and proved ...

... or have definityly decided to use the Hollerith punched card billing system. The smallest company issues approximately 22,000 bills per month -- the largest 475,000. Three companies are using 80-column equipment; the others are using 45-column equipment. In addition, on other utility is experimenting with 80- ...

The Record, Volume 20 The Institute, 1931

p.337 In his system of maintaining the records and accounts, the author makes use of the addressograph, Hollerith 80 column punched card ...

p.378 Of interest to companies using the Hollerith 80 column equipment ... (talk) 02:33, 1 July 2017 (UTC)  — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)  
None of the above any relevance to adding "A mobile Hollerith (BTM) installation was landed on the Normandy beaches on D-Day plus six.". It's a non-notable event, and has no bearing any path of development of punched cards; it's just trivia. It's placement simply disrupts the prose of the section. Also, please follow WP:BRD (note it's not "BRRD"); reverting a revert at this point is WP:EW. Wait until discussion reaches consensus to make changes. The proper procedure at this point is to undo the 2nd (disruptive) revert and restore the the section to it's pre-contention state at this time. --A D Monroe III (talk) 13:41, 17 September 2017 (UTC)
The text included above pertained to the correcting of "In 1931 IBM began introducing multiple punches for upper-case letters and special characters" NOT to the D-Day edit. (talk) 07:20, 6 December 2017 (UTC)
As for D-Day 1) the history is chronological and 2) it is an example of Punched card machines where you would have never expected to find them - thus punched cards are everywhere. (talk) 07:20, 6 December 2017 (UTC)

And while you're here can you help with "In 1881 Jules Carpentier ..." please?Edit

The article has a beautiful first line"A punched card or punch card is a piece of stiff paper that can be used to contain digital information represented by the presence or absence of holes in predefined positions"

Unfortunately someone added text to the history section begining "In 1881 Jules Carpentier developed a method of recording and playing back performances on a harmonium using punched cards." Music recorded with punches does not meet the "predefined positions" criteria. Not meeting that criteria means the recording is not digital. I deleted, but was reverted. (talk) 07:20, 6 December 2017 (UTC)

The currently popular player pianos with music on rolls of paper use analog timing tracks. I don't know the details on the Carpentier system, so it might be analog or digital. I don't know that analog should exclude it from this article, though. Gah4 (talk) 17:49, 12 June 2018 (UTC)


What does a punch card have to do with a pound sterling. This seems quite specious. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:59, 24 December 2017 (UTC)

It illustrates how an apparently decimal based system was adapted to handle other radices. BTW, please remember to sign your edits. Regards, Martin of Sheffield (talk) 10:49, 24 December 2017 (UTC)
The early PL/I compilers have a data format, and conversion ability, for Pound Stirling data. I am not sure now what the external format is, though. I suspect, like many PL/I features, it came from COBOL. Gah4 (talk) 17:42, 12 June 2018 (UTC)
According to IBM Operating System/360 PL/I: Language Specifications, the form used in PL/I programs was {pounds}.{shillings}.{pence}L, e.g. "1.10.0L". The spec says "Sterling fields are considered to be real fixed-point decimal fields. When involved in arithmetic operations, they will be converted to a value representing fixed-point pence.", so internally, and presumably when written out in binary form, they may have been packed decimal numbers of pence with conversion done as part of I/O, or N digits of decimal pounds, 2 digits of shillings, and 2 digits of pence, with conversion done to and from pence in arithmetic (my bet's on the former).
What I forgot, though, is what the external representation looks like. It seems (page 149) that there is single character representation for shillings and pence using BSI specification, and single character representation for pence using IBM representation. Gah4 (talk) 16:08, 13 June 2018 (UTC)
By the way, this is an interesting manual, that defines the language independent of what is implemented by any compiler. That is, the way it should be, not necessarily the way it is. Gah4 (talk) 16:08, 13 June 2018 (UTC)
It's interesting that the sterling picture section includes "P Specifies that the associated field position contains the pence character P." In 1965 the symbol pence was "d", using "P" would immediately mark you out as ill-educated or foreign. Martin of Sheffield (talk) 16:44, 13 June 2018 (UTC)
I guess this was before ownership of PL/I went to Hursley, then. :-) Guy Harris (talk) 17:35, 13 June 2018 (UTC)
I couldn't find a COBOL 60 spec online; there might have been support for sterling in the spec, or it might just have been an enhancement added by UK vendors. Guy Harris (talk) 07:26, 13 June 2018 (UTC)
£sd doesn't seem to discuss the one character representation, so I asked in talk. Gah4 (talk) 16:17, 13 June 2018 (UTC)
I found Collected Information on Punched Card Codes which seems to be from 1960, with some discussion of BSI codes. First, they number the top zone 10, instead of the IBM 12. That allows for rows 0 to 11, which they use for pence and months, with 0 for December. I believe, then, with a 10 zone, and 0 though 9 digit punch, for 10 to 19 shillings. Gah4 (talk) 17:02, 13 June 2018 (UTC)

control vs. dataEdit

The statement Prior uses of machine readable media, such as those above (other than Korsakov) had been for control, not data. doesn't seem quite right. Loom patterns are data. On the other hand, loom patterns are not for data processing, but data storage. Gah4 (talk) 17:39, 12 June 2018 (UTC)

"Loom patterns are data." The History section begins by saying "Basile Bouchon developed the control of a loom by punched holes in paper tape in 1725." - emphasis mine. That was an early example of data controlling a machine (the program into which I'm typing this is a later example...).
I'd say the only stuff that's purely data is stuff that's processed but not "interpreted" in the way machine code, microcode, bytecode, etc. is. Guy Harris (talk) 05:16, 13 June 2018 (UTC)
If I print a file of numbers on a mechanical printer, the numbers control mechanical positions of type wheels or bars or pins, but it is still data. Control characters, like newline, might not be considered data. As well as I know, the punched cards for the loom are only data (what color to put where), and not control (there is no loop structure, or GOTO). Maybe there is a stop code, though. Gah4 (talk) 16:46, 13 June 2018 (UTC)
It all depends upon your POV. To a programmer GOTO is a control statement, part of the language. To a compiler GOTO is part of its data stream which it processes and outputs as another form of data (in this case machine code). Martin of Sheffield (talk) 16:57, 13 June 2018 (UTC)
Yes. But also, numerical data in compiler input often comes out slightly processed in the output. String data likely comes out exactly the same. Numeric data converted from ASCII (or EBCDIC) to binary integer of floating point values, but still data. Gah4 (talk) 17:09, 13 June 2018 (UTC)
Is the ability to iterate other than by organizing the instructions in a physical loop, or to make decisions, a requirement for some form of data to be considered "control"? The Harvard Mark I page claims that "At first, the Mark I had no conditional branch instruction. This meant that complex programs had to be physically lengthy. A program loop was accomplished by joining the end of the paper tape containing the program back to the beginning of the tape (literally creating a loop)."
And, at least as I read the Jacquard loom page, the punched cards don't directly encode colors, they encode whether the warp thread is lifted or not, to put the weft thread above or below it.
I'd consider a catalog entry that just says "this is an ugly Christmas sweater with a drunken Santa Claus" to be data and not control, but something that can instruct a machine to produce that sweater to be data used as control. Guy Harris (talk) 17:51, 13 June 2018 (UTC)

I think the distinction you guys are trying to make is not so simple. The data in a loom card selects the color of a particular weft thread and which portion of it is to be visible. (Ada Lovelace mentions that "There is in existence a beautiful woven portrait of Jacquard, in the fabrication of which 24,000 cards were required.") The data is translated into the action by the holes, which control which warp threads are lifted. So there is both a data and a control aspect. But the story is the same for Hollerith punched cards used with early electro-mechanical accounting machines. The hole pattern in Hollerith code is not accidental, it was developed to allow electro-mechanical machines to accumulate totals. In a field that is to be added to an accumulator (as determined by control panel wiring) the presence of a numeric punch allows a counter wheel to start rotating, one step per card row, and the counter stops when the card being read advances to the zero row. Thus a 9-punch allows nine counter steps to accumulate, an 8-punch only eight, and so on. That is why cards were always fed 9-edge first. So just as with the loom, there was both a data aspect and a control aspect to Hollerith punched cards. Of course with later electronic systems, the card coding was separated from the control action, but for most of punched card history that was not the case.--agr (talk) 19:19, 13 June 2018 (UTC)

The hole patterns for Hollerith don't make it not data, but a convenient data encoding. The tied together cards in a Jacquard loom don't allow for a branch operation, which would be control. Well, I could ask if there is a WP:RS about Hollerith census cards being data and not control. Otherwise, is there an important distinction between loom pattern data and census data that needs to be considered? Gah4 (talk) 20:47, 13 June 2018 (UTC)
"The tied together cards in a Jacquard loom don't allow for a branch operation, which would be control." I am not yet convinced that branches (other than looping, where a single loop can be done simply by literally making a loop...) is a prerequisite for something being deemed "control".
"Otherwise, is there an important distinction between loom pattern data and census data that needs to be considered?" Whilst the census punched cards did, at a very low level, control pulses that operated counters, they didn't specify which counters to activate, or any other aspect of the process of counting the census results; the loom punched cards did specify the process of weaving the cloth. In the machine on which I'm typing this, the bits in a number from a GPR or a register into which memory data is fetched will, when gated to an ALU, turn on or off transistors in the ALU depending on the bit values, but I don't deem that to be "control" at the level of instructions fetched from memory. I'm as yet unconvinced that the low-level fashion in which punched cards control counters should be considered "control", or that if it's not considered "control", the fashion in which punched cards control a Jacquard loom should not be considered "control", either, so you might need a reliable source for that claim. Guy Harris (talk) 23:00, 13 June 2018 (UTC)
I wasn't suggesting that punched card are not data, quite the contrary, I was arguing that loom cards, even though they have a control function are data every bit as much (pun intended). The 24,000 loom cards that produced the image of Jacquard that Lovelace mentions constitute nothing less than a digital image. The pixels are exposed wefts crossing individual woof threads. If one were able to read the cards into a computer, with 1 and 0 bits representing the present or absence of a hole in each position, it would be straightforward to convert that data into, say, a TIFF file, if one had a basic understanding of the loom set up and the colors of the threads used. Even without knowing anything at all about the loom, there would be enough information in those 24,000 cards to recover the image using cryptanalytic techniques. That set of loom card is certainly a dataset.--agr (talk) 15:31, 15 June 2018 (UTC)
Yes, I believe that loom cards are mostly data. Conditional branches are a common type of control function, that I don't believe was used by Jacquard. As above, I suspect that a STOP signal would be convenient, and that would be control and not data, but just one bit of control. Gah4 (talk) 18:57, 15 June 2018 (UTC)
Looking at YouTube videos of Jacquard looms in operation, it seems the operator propelled the shuttle back and forth and would have had the ability to stop at any point, say if a thread broke. Looping mechanisms to control weaving were know before Jacquard and were used for simpler patterns that repeated. But punched cards did not have conditional branching either, not counting their much later use as a medium to enter computer programs, which just used the wide availability of relatively inexpensive keypunch machines to serve as a text entry medium . There were limited conditional abilities, say to to print the totals of the previous detail cards when a new master card is detected, but no real branching. Incidentally the Jacquard image I mentioned is available in commons as File:A la mémoire de J.M. Jacquard.jpg and is incorporated in the Jacquard loom article.--agr (talk) 03:33, 17 June 2018 (UTC)
"There were limited conditional abilities, say to to print the totals of the previous detail cards when a new master card is detected" That sounds as if you're talking about accounting machines; I'd consider their control to be done solely through the plugboard, with the punched cards being purely data. Guy Harris (talk) 08:25, 17 June 2018 (UTC)
Yes, I am talking about accounting machines. They were the primary way punched cards were processed for most of the punched card era. By the time we get to computers (with some early exceptions) cards were just data, even cards containing program source and object code. But while accounting machines were indeed controlled by plugboard wiring, that wiring could and often did have options that were selected by special coding on the cards. There was more than one read station (at least on the later accounting machines), so that, for example, the accounting machine could detect a punch indicating a master card and then print totals from the previous detail cards before processing the new master card. One might also have a special control card to be placed at the end of a deck whose only purpose was to trigger printing grand totals for that run. People using these machine were only trying to get their work done. There were many situations and a lot of ingenuity was employed to get the machines to do what was needed. I don't think our article should emphasize a distinction that was not so clear cut at the time.--agr (talk) 15:39, 18 June 2018 (UTC)

Collected Information on Punched Card CodesEdit

While looking for something else, I found: Collected Information on Punched Card Codes. It seems like a useful reference, and maybe some should go into the article. Gah4 (talk) 16:28, 13 June 2018 (UTC)

Nice find. I've added it to the external links section.--agr (talk) 20:52, 15 June 2018 (UTC)

Control vs. data, continuedEdit

The other one was getting long, and I now actually removed Prior uses of machine readable media, such as those above (other than Korsakov) had been for control, not data. It does seem that control vs. data is important, but I think this isn't correct. Gah4 (talk) 19:03, 15 June 2018 (UTC)

Mark Sense cardsEdit

There were certainly mark-sense cards that did not require a "special electrographic pencil". I think the image shows one. You needed a "number 2 pencil" although anything black would work. Also the cards were directly read by the same card reader that could read holes (not sure if there were two different light detectors or black underneath so holes looked like marks) and there was no equipment to punch holes where the marks were. This text is maybe describing the very first mark-sense cards and should be updated. Many people's only exposure to these cards were from ones they had to mark to program computers, and I certainly don't remember any "special pencil". Spitzak (talk) 19:40, 21 November 2018 (UTC)

In my youth I ran the main card reader at a university, and another chap did the read-sense cards for the school kids on his own machine. So, I'm pretty sure it was always necessary to read these with a special card reader. No doubt it would have been possible to have a dual-use reader, but I doubt this was common. - Snori (talk) 19:55, 21 November 2018 (UTC)
The one I am familiar with was attached to an HP2100A, and may have been an HP product. It probably dated from 1973 or later. It was not a high-speed card reader, I doubt it read more than 1/second. But it certainly read the "HP Basic" cards marked with pencil at the same time it read other punched cards (which were inserted in the deck to split each student's work apart and list and run them).Spitzak (talk) 20:00, 21 November 2018 (UTC)
True mark-sense cards definitely required a pencil that made conductive marks, as the marks were read by using a pair of brushes to try to pass current through the places where the marks would be. Early readers for punched cards worked similarly, by passing the card between brushes and a copper roller; where the brushes encountered a hole, they contacted the roller underneath, completing the circuit. (You can find diagrams of this setup in the IBM manuals for e.g. the 1402 card reader-punch.) This same reader arrangement obviously would not work for mark-sense cards!
The "special pencil" for mark-sense was simply a pencil that would make marks that were conductive enough, and it's true that some ordinary pencils could be used. Most inks wouldn't work, and #3 pencils were unreliable because they didn't have enough graphite in their "lead", and were too hard to lay down enough of a mark besides.
Later readers (for both punched cards and mark-sense) used optical sensing and then any mark that was dark enough would work. Still, the same reader mechanism could not be used for both types, as the marks you're supposed to make are not in the same places as they are on punched cards. Besides, punched card readers pass the card between the light source on one side of the card and a row of 12 or 80 photodetectors on the other. In this way the two can be close enough to each other that no lenses are required. All of the later card readers worked that way, including the very fast CDC 405 and the IBM 3504 (but not the earlier IBM 2540), right up until the end of the use of the medium. Since a "marked" mark-sense card would not pass light whether marked or not, it could obviously not be read this way.
For optical reading a mark-sense card has to be read by reflected light. Which is much more difficult and less reliable than reading a hole by transmitted light. In any case, per IBM, the term "mark sense" was only used for cards that were read electrically - though no doubt the term was used more generally by others. Jeh (talk) 10:24, 25 November 2018 (UTC)

Babbage Number CardsEdit

I made a couple of very simple edits in an attempt to clarify this paragraph, but then I started to have doubts and reverted them. Perhaps others, who are more knowledgeable about Babbage, may wish to follow up these points.

1. Year of Charles Babbage's proposal for Numbered Cards? My original edit was simply to add the year of Babbage's proposal to fit in with the rest of the history section. I used the year (1837) of the referenced paper by Babbage, but then became unsure if this was indeed the original date and reverted the edit. The reason I gave (wrongly) attributed this paper to his son Benjamin Herschel Babbage, based on this page:

2. Calculating or Analytical Engine? The current text refers to the cards proposal being part of Babbage's "Calculating" Engine - presumably based on the title of the referenced article. Calculating Engine currently redirects to Difference Engine which, as far as I can see, did NOT use punched cards. I think, therefore, this article (and/or the redirection) should refer to the Analytical Engine. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Bigchip (talkcontribs) 12:33, 28 March 2019 (UTC)

Cost of a box of cardsEdit

I think we need a much better source for the cost of a box of cards, and also a good source for the fact that cards were typically sold, and stored in boxes of 2,000. Anyone? - Snori (talk) 00:40, 16 June 2019 (UTC)

Reply to edditEdit

1. People used to think that looms had something to do with punched cards. But Not so - Hollerith begins from scratch - nothing to do with looms. It's that foolish book "Jacquard's Web" that caused you problems. Eventually all the loom stuff will be deleted.

2. The card shown had round corners, introduced in 1965 - only used for another 20 years or so of decline. So it is very unlikely they were "the type most widely used".

Simple stuff...... I thought. [[ — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 08:18, 18 May 2020 (UTC)

1 - I see your point here, I've added "In most cases there is no evidence that each of the inventors was aware of the earlier work", but while this seems to be the case from what I can see, proving a negative is not easy. However, regardless of whether these directly led to one another, they are relevent to the concept, and show that the development of the ideas that were "in the air" during the period.
2 - It would be hard to come up with solid number, but computers became much more widespread from 1965 onward, and punched cards were in near-universal use for input up until the late 1970s - so it seems very much believable to me that the round cornered version was "the type most widely used". - Snori (talk) 10:19, 18 May 2020 (UTC)
Rounded corners is a side issue. More to the point, the card shown uses the EBCDIC encoding introduced with the IBM System/360. I've updated the caption.--agr (talk) 17:41, 17 June 2020 (UTC)


1. "A punched card or punch card is a piece of stiff paper that can be used to contain digital data represented by the presence or absence of holes in predefined positions."

The "recording of music as it is played" conflicts with "predefined" thus cannot be digital, not a precursor. Please delete that claim.

2. "very much believable to me" Ahhh, yes -- computer people are going to write the history of punched cards, what possibly could go wrong? "much believable to you"? A Wikipedia standard? Punch card input declined at some rate, as you've observed. But punched card output declined at a much faster rate. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:43, 17 June 2020 (UTC)

**Severe** NPOVEdit

This article literally reads like a glossy brochure you might find on the table in the waiting room at IBM HQ. It completely neglects the fact that punched cards were used originally for [teletype], 5-bit [Baudot]'s card was patented (in Europe) a full ten years before Hollerith's, and [ITA2] (encoding and cards) was an international standard in 1924 (by the same body now known as the [ITU-T]. It was used extensively through the Second World War. This article doesn't even mention anything of these other punched cards. Its "precursors" -> Hollerith (who founded IBM) -> IBM Punch Cards -> IBM Invents Computing.

This is not the article on "IBM's contribution to Punched Cards". It is "punched card".

International Telegraph Alphabet 2 brightened

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Gsnxn (talk) 05:49, 10 July 2020 (UTC)

So are you saying that French patent 103,898 "Système de télégraphie rapide", from June 1874, describes a system that uses punched cards rather than punched tape, or that can use punched cards as well as punched tape? Guy Harris (talk) 06:54, 10 July 2020 (UTC)
Return to "Punched card" page.