Punched Drunk: Alcohol, Surveillance and the LCBO, 1927-1975

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


Punch Card Statistical Analysis

Statistical analyses from the This age of automatic control demands authomatic accounting1920s-1950s were undertaken with Hollerith, or Hollerith inspired, sorting and tabulating machines. At the time, these machines were cutting edge technology and were accepted as a “prove[n] way of economically producing facts and figures vital to operating” a business (Railway Review 79 1926: 354). The punch card and sorter were invented by Herman Hollerith as a practical means of tabulation adaptable to the needs of government (Hollerith, A Machine for Tabulating Statistics USA patent 526130 issued Sept 18 1894). Specifically, Hollerith designed his “machine for doing the purely mechanical work of tabulating population and similar statistics” in order to make manageable and actionable the vast amount of information that the US government was required to process for its census work (Alterman 1969: 5). However, in performing this function with comparably remarkable speed and accuracy, the machines also developed the ability for those who ran them “to count people like they had never been counted before” (Black 2001: 24). In other words, pre-electronic tabulation brought into focus the technological production of profiles through efficient cross-referencing and sampling; profiles are quasi-representational image of types of persons that are used to make predictions about actions and preferences by collapsing the future onto the present according to projections of past events through comparison across variables and similarities with other types, creative categorical extrapolations that come with greater integrative capacities, and with certain details cleaned out (Elmer 2004: 59-60).

Hollerith technology was first implemented on a large scale in Baltimore to generate public health statistics in 1886, though it became much better known after its popular success in the tabulation of the 1890 United States census, and again in more recent years due to its malicious application in the sorting and subjugation of targeted populations in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe (Norberg 1990: 761; Black 2001). When punch card sorting and tabulation technology was introduced its impact was much greater than expected. Its initial design to “identify” and count individuals was quickly supplemented with new predictive and hence governmental capabilities, since this technology provided vital data that could “project and rationalize the benefits" of certain actions, organize these actions, "and even audit [its own] efficiency” (Ibid: 8). Although the Tabulating Machine Company, soon to become International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in 1924 under the gaze of Hollerith, was the first to patent punch card technology, many companies developed variations on Hollerith’s original design. By 1928, Hollerith punch card technology had been standardized around a 12 row, 80 column design measuring 7-3/8 by 3-1/4 inches (187.325 by 82.55 mm) and 0.007 inches (0.178 mm) thick, which remained unaltered until punch cards ceased being mass-produced.

Punch card

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