Computer Science Illuminated, Third Edition


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Herman Hollerith

Herman Hollerith, the world's first statistical engineer, revolutionized the census and helped shape the foundation for modern day computers. Born in 1860, Hollerith studied first at the City College of New York and then at the Columbia School of Mines as an engineering student. Soon after earning his degree, Hollerith got a job at the U.S. Census bureau and met Dr. Billings, a man who would greatly influence his life. Both men saw a need for a device that would help make tabulating the census a more efficient and less daunting task. The 1880 census, for example, took eight years to unravel, and it was feared that the next census would consume even more time and resources to tabulate. A new method of tabulation was desperately needed as the population was growing and the country demographics were dynamically changing.

While teaching mechanical engineering at M.I.T and then working at the U.S. Patent Office in the 1880s, Hollerith devoted much time to developing the machine that he and Dr. Billings envisioned. His eventual success evolved from astute observation and creative innovation. He observed the way in which train operators punched holes in train tickets, and knew of Jacquard's loom, a weaving device that "read" patterns punched into cards. These ideas were the basis from which he devised his own machine, which used punched cards, rods, and electricity. In competition with other tabulation machines, the Hollerith machine worked more efficiently and held more data. It was the clear choice for the 1890 census and was therefore used to count and sort the census data. It is estimated that the efficiency of Hollerith's punched cards saved the U.S. Census bureau five million dollars.

In 1896, Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company to capitalize on his patents. Because he owned the rights to his machine, Hollerith demanded an astonishingly high price for the use of his machine in the 1900 census; it would have cost less to count the census data without the use of this new technology. Because of the cost of the 1900 census, the US government hungrily sought after the development of a different machine, which was created by James Powers and used in the 1910 census.

Powers soon created his own company to rival Hollerith's company which merged with another organization to become the Computer Tabulating and Recording Company. In 1921, Hollerith retired from years of serving as a consulting engineer, and saw his company change names once again in 1924, when it became the International Business Machine Company, or IBM. In 1929 Herman Hollerith passed away, leaving behind a punched card approach to computers that would be used well into the 1970s.
The above picture is Courtesy of Douglas W. Jones at the University of Iowa

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Herman Hollerith
Learn more about Herman Hollerith's contributions to computer science, on this webpage that provides an excellent overview of his lifetime contributions.

Visit the Herman Hollerith web site

Who is the Father of Computer Science?

As you read in Computer Science Illuminated, Vincent Atanasoff is often referred to as the "Forgotten father of computer science," but with him were another of significant players. Konrad Zuse for example played an important role in the development of the computer. With a background in civil engineering and construction, Zuse was a humble and dedicated man. He worked on creating an automatic calculator during the 1930s and through World War II. In the early 1940s, he created the Z3, which is recognized as a first digital computer. Clifford Berry is another great in the history of computers. He worked directly with Atanasoff and helped shape the Atanasoff-Berry computer contributing his ingenuity and brilliant skills in electronics and mechanical construction. Upon completion, the Atanasoff-Berry Computer weighed 700 pounds and used over 300 vacuum tubes. Its inception was a giant leap forward in computer development because the Atanasoff-Berry Computer was the first machine to use electricity, vacuum tubes, binary numbers, and capacitors. The Harvard Mark I also stands out in computer history as a critical development. Grace Hopper and Howard Aiken designed the five ton Mark I in the early 1940s at Harvard University. This took place a few years before John Mauchly and John Presper Eckert created the ENIAC I. Clearly a vast number of talented men and women took part in the evolution of computer technology, and it is therefore unjust to claim that one individual invented the modern day computer. From early mathematical advances like Boole's algebra, to the creation of the Java programming language, computers and computer science have developed by building on the experience and research of a vast number of individuals.

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Father of Computer Science - ENIAC
Figure out where the ENIAC fits into computer history by exploring the ENAIC Museum Online.

Visit the Father of Computer Science - ENIAC web site

Putting Size into Perspective - Admiral Grace Hopper

Admiral Grace Hopper's contributions to computer science are multifold. Not only did she invent the compiler and find the first computer "bug," but she also played an important role in establishing women as serious computer scientists. She was the first woman since Ada Lovelace who made a well known contribution to the development of computer technology. While Grace Hopper made a mark for herself and for all women through her accomplishments, women are still under-represented in the field of computer science. In 1990, only 13% of computer science PhDs were given to women, and only 7.8% of computer science professors were women. Outside of the academic arena, the discrepency continues: women scientists earn less money than men in each parallel stage of their careers. In the new millenium these statistics have not drastically changed. This disproportionate ratio of men to women, moreover, is not unique to computer science. Men have dominated mathematics, chemistry, physics and other sciences for years. Research is taking a new look at women and the sciences, and trying to pinpoint when and why women lose interest in pursueing careers in computer science. These questions have led to the development of organizations like the Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research which is dedicated to supporting and encouraging women to participate in computer science and engineering.

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Grace Hopper
The topic of women and computer science deserves much attention and exploration. What steps can be taken to ensure that women have equal opportunity to pursue computer science research? How do the teaching practices of elementary schools and high schools influence women in their choice of studies? What social changes need to be made to support women in the sciences? Visit the “Women and Computer Science” website as a first step in gathering the information you need to form your own ideas on this subject.

Visit the Grace Hopper web site
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