Tabulator: what is it and what is it for in information technology? How does it work?

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Shane Conder
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Invented in 1980 by Herman Hollerith, the tabulator is known as one of the first artifacts of computer science. Designed for data processing in the census that was carried out in the United States for the year 1890.

And then it is used in the accounting workspace and in other professional fields, increasing its range of action. We will talk about the tabulator in this section, I invite you to continue reading this beautiful story about the tabulator.

What is the tabulator?

The tabulator was created in 1890, at that time it is was invented to help with the census of people in the country. This machine could reduce the data analysis time, to achieve the mechanization of the process and make it faster. Of course, even before you can install Microsoft Office online in Windows 10, the machine is the main alternative.

For this reason the tabulator was a revolution in data processing, as at that time it was thought that doing this process manually took about 10 years to complete.

When using the tabulator to take the census, it only took about 6 months to complete the process. At that time, the tabulator was in charge of carrying out the process mechanically.

When the process was complete, an alarm sounded and another card was inserted. Therefore, i workers could place complete tabulator cards in based on the type of information provided. Something like an ultimatum similar to activating the alarm or bedtime on iPhone iOS.


The function as such of the tabulator is to process information with a binary mechanical method, currently we observe the same in computer science but in a computerized way.

What is needed? How does it work?

You should know that the tabulator for this time worked with mercury, punch cards were placed above the tank where the mercury was. On top of both cables were placed in the form of a spring, these were in charge of looking for the places where the paper was punched. In these perforated points, mercury was housed to indicate the exact location of the piercing.

In case the card was not punched, these cables could not record any kind of information on the card. In this way it was possible to save the information on the card, and therefore the tabulated reports could be obtained faster than manual work.

The car had a binary reading system, this information was stored on the card according to the information that was previously provided. It was mainly used for quick censuses, but was later perfected for use in accounting, it could read more than 250 cards per minute.

About a year later, it was refined again to add the addition function. Therefore, it began to be used in business, achieving excellent results. The success generated by the tabulator came up to the 40s, when mechanical elements were replaced with electronic ones, ushering in the computer age.

Parts of the tabulation machine

Within the parts of the tabulator is the player who was used to duplicate the card results. The counter which was also known as a calculator, where the cards were placed so that they were count arithmetic and accurately.

Another element was the classifier which was used to arrange the cards in a certain sequence in such a way as to be able to constitute the possible results. No doubt it was more complicated than creating documents, slides and spreadsheets in Google Docs or even simply printing an email or Gmail image from an Android mobile phone.

The tabulator which was perhaps the most important element of the machine, since yes they could get the definitive information of the previous data acquisition.


Another element that had different functions was the interlacer. But the most important thing is to order and arrange, in sequence, the cards that have been punched. The element dealing with the input of the mechanized process was the card reader. This is where you enter the card that contains the information with the data you need to enter into the table.

Today the tabulator is a computerized electronic process. It can be said that the binary codes that help in the computer field are already installed directly in the computer programs. Therefore, you no longer have to worry about creating binary codes to use programs or create applications. Because this is done automatically by the programs.

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