First Census Computer Use Involved the President? White House “traditionally been involved?”
September 2, 2009

1st Computer for Census-Tabulator for 1890 Census Invented by Herman Hollerith

1st Computer for Census-Tabulator for 1890 Census Invented by Herman Hollerith

Herman Hollerith

Herman Hollerith

On this date in History:  Herman Hollerith went to a dance and met a young lady.  His dance partner must have been smitten because she invited him to home for dinner.  There, he met her father who was the head of the US Division of Vital Statistics for the 1880 census.  Her father told Herman that a machine using notched cards could more easily count census statistics rather than the cumbersome and time consuming method of counting by hand.  Herman’s curiosity was picqued.

Hollerith, who was just around 30 years old at the time, recalled receiving a train ticket that had a “punch photograph” on it. He described it as a description punch out.  With that in mind, he began figuring out how to make a punch card to record information and then follow up with a machine to be able to read the punch cards and calculate the results.  He tested his inventions against two different hand methods of counting and proved his machine was twice as fast.  Presumably it was also more accurate.  He went up against the likes of Alexander Graham Bell in bidding for the job of counting the 1890 census and won when Bell abandoned his attempt. 

Early Census Punch Card

Early Census Punch Card

 The census bureau rented 56 of Hollerith’s machines.  They ran on battery power with the batteries regularly recharged using Thomas Edison’s new electrical circuitry.  The New York Sun reported that “women are better adapted for this particular work than men” as they employed a bunch of “nice looking girls in cool white dresses” to do most of the work of punching hundreds of cards a day.  They tried men for awhile for the night shift but the men were confused and quickly dispatched.  While they were there, they managed to exchange flirtatious notes with the ladies.  That would get them sent to some board of inquiry today.  Anyway, one operator could count up to 80,000 people a day so the total of 62,622, 250 was reached on this date in 1890, just 6 weeks after counting began.  

The superintendent of the census bragged that “the bright young women and the sturdy young men of our Population Division could run thorugh the entire population of the earth…estimated at 1.3 billion, in less than 200 days.”  Now the Constitution only calls for a counting of people every 10 years.  Nowadays, you get a questionaire filled with all sorts of information.  And now the Obama Administration has put the collection  of all that data into the hands of the White House and out of the hands of the census bureau. 

Big Daddy Grover-Involved in 1890 Census?

Big Daddy Grover-Involved in 1890 Census?

While Mr. Hollerith ushered in the era of computer technology to the census business, inspired by “chicken salad”, I wonder what the founders would have to say about collection of so much data and then placing it directly into the hands of the President?  Newt Gingrich calls it a “Nixonian Power Grab.”   The Congressional Black Caucus says that the President should be involved to make sure that there is not an undercount, suggesting that the White House has “traditionally been involved” in the census.   I found no mention of either our old pal Grover Cleveland or his successor, Benjamin Harrison being involved in the 1890 census.  But, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t.  What do you think…should the White House be involved or should this be left to the Herman Holleriths of the world?

Thursday Evening

Thursday Evening

Weather Bottom Line:  A little bit of a surprise in that a shortwave is coming down through the flow and may trigger some afternoon showers or t’storms on a scattered basis.  We’re still pretty dry in the atmosphere and the main part of the short should be down to our south and southwest.  So, I would think that most people will stay dry.  There may be some leftover stuff bouncing around tonight and on Thursday, another little impulse does the same thing but is progged to be even farther away.  An isolated afternoon t’storm Thursday afternoon is still not totally unreasonable to expect but for the most part, it probably won’t be over your house…consider yourself lucky or unlucky if it is, depending on your situation.  My sunflowers need some water so it would be nice but its probably the best chance that they will see.  We should start to see more consistent temperatures in the low 80′s through the weekend, nights not quite as cool and humidity levels slowly rising.

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