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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Punch It: 1920

Punch It: 1920

Washington, D.C., circa 1920. "Tabulating Machine Co." Our second look at the company's equipment. This installation is at the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.

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could be used to blow paper dust or chads out of the machinery.

All Questions Answered

My first impreesion of this picture was that there was a very ornate, Art Noveau design machine in the adjoining room where a patron would write a question on a card, slip it into a slot, and receive an answer in the flick of an eye. With lots of whirring and buzzing and other Rube Goldberg sort of activities, invisible to him, and then the card, with the answer, would pop up for him from another slot! Magic! And Frank Morgan would be in charge!

It Takes Money

Nixiebunny commented: "Those wooden card boxes are very high-class. I've only ever seen paper ones."

Hollerith cards seen here (and nowadays often incorrectly called IBM cards) are the size they are because at the time a ready storage container was already commercially available: boxes for storing currency, i.e. the old "greenbacks." Greenbacks and Hollerith cards are the same size.

Here's a short Wikipedia article on Herman Hollerith and his Tabulating Machine Company which was one of the companies that in 1924 formed IBM.

Computer Maintenance

I guess it consisted of the oil can situated above the number 3 on the sorting bin in the front right of the picture.


The fan on the wall is deliberately pointed up toward the ceiling to circulate air indirectly. I can imagine that one of those powerful old fans could cause some grief were it pointed in the direction of all those paper cards, and then switched on.


There seems to be a bellows hanging from the right end of the nearest machine. Were they planning to burn the cards that got folded, spindled or mutilated?

Spitting image

On one of those enameled receptacles on the floor can be seen a stenciled "P.O.D." This being Washington, D.C., the immediate association that springs to mind is Post Office Department, leading to the speculation that this photo illustrates a working installation of the Tabulating Machine Company's wares.

[Indeed, the view through the transom shows the atrium of the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue. - Dave]

No matter what era

And no matter what computer you work on, inevitably you find yourself sitting there, staring at your machine, waiting for your job to finish — just like the three seated here. All that's missing from this picture are the stacks of empty Mountain Dew cans, the Twinkie wrappers, and the half-eaten bags of Doritos.

I wonder if these guys ever got together for LAN parties after work.


I used to work with those IBM machines in the sixties -- the ones pictured are sorters. All of the old work with punched cards was mind-numbing. I only lasted a year or two and went off to find something more stimulating.

Behold . . .

Birth of the geek.

I would give my eye teeth

for those ceiling fixtures.


Some kind of giant computer eh???

Primitive card sorters

These card sorting machines are so unfinished-looking! No covers. It looks like a model 70, judging from this website.

The IBM 83 sorting machines a couple decades later had the output hoppers arranged horizontally, eliminating the need for the operator to transfer the cards from the vertical stack to the horizontal one.

Spittoons seem to be standard equipment.

Those wooden card boxes are very high-class. I've only ever seen paper ones.

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