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Table Of Contents  CertiGuide to A+ (Core Hardware)
 9  Chapter 0100:  Hard Drives

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III  A Brief History of Hard Drives
(Page 1 of 3)

As you have come accustomed to, the evolutionary steps of PC devices always reveals details about the current state of affairs. Hard drives are of course not immune to this fact. The following two history lessons will no doubt reveal some interesting facts about how we came to use this media for data storage.

Paper Cards and Paper Tape

In fact it was a salesman, traveling the Wild Wild West of the United States, selling player pianos who plays a big part in the computer world today, as you will see shortly. First we have to go back to the year 1880. The tenth census of the United States had begun. It was completed in 1888. Yes, it took 8 years to complete. A teenager by the name of Herman Hollerith was one of the workers in the 1880 census. The young Herman had a better idea.

While traveling, Hermann noticed train conductors would punch holes in the edges of a passenger’s ticket. Information such as a passengers height, build and hair color could be coded by punching the ticket, creating a 'punch photograph' that was assigned to the passenger.

Herman created a card (the same size as the paper financial currency of the day - 'horse blanket' dollar bills). This was inserted into a box that allowed the pressing of a lever to punch a hole for the data (like age, sex, birthplace, etc.).

These cards were stacked into the Hollerith electric counting machine. (This German émigré got the idea of how to build this from seeing the new mechanical looms sprouting up all over Europe). This was a press with spring-loaded pins. When a pin found a hole in the 'punch photograph', it passed through, touching a cup filled with mercury, completing an electrical circuit, incrementing a mechanical counter by one. Completing the tabulator was a sorting box. When a particular attribute was found, the card was dropped into the box with all the other cards with that attribute. This would lead to another run through the tabulator, so data like, "all New York residents who are coal miners", could be determined.

Hollerith's machine allowed the 1890 census to be completed in six weeks. The company's success was assured. And it grew by selling machines all over the world. And as time went on

[spacer]The Early Days of HDDs

Today it's hard to imagine that when the first computers were developed there were no hard drives. Each time you wanted to run a program you had to do so manually. The first storage devices were paper tape. They were rolls of paper with holes punched out in a certain sequence and inserted into a special reader to run your program. This principle was used to run the player piano of the late 1800s.


Hollerith's firm ran into financial challenges. Remember the traveling piano salesman? His name was Thomas Watson. He bought Hollerith's company, and after a little time, renamed the firm to. International Business Machine's (IBM).

For the next 100 years the punch card (sometimes called the 80 card) lived in utility bills, payroll processes and so on. What is less well known is the player piano paper tape also played an extensive role in computing. Rather than put the programs on a card (where one card out of place would crash the program) codes were placed on rolls of paper, either 4 or even 8 bits wide, and then run.

Obviously reducing years of census work to six weeks presented a great improvement over pen and ink, the downside was the slow method and if you made an error you might have to re-punch the card. Needless to say by today's standards these were very cumbersome and difficult to use. Not only that, there was no easy way to work with the same data over and over again. The industry realized pretty quickly that something else had to be done.


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II  Hard Drives
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IV  First Hard Drives
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