Powers Accounting Machine

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The Powers Accounting Machine was an information processing device developed in the early 20th century for the U.S. Census Bureau. It was then produced and marketed by the Powers Accounting Machine Company, an information technology company founded by the machine's developer. The company thrived in the early 20th century as a producer of tabulating machines. It was a predecessor to the current Unisys corporation.

Development[edit]

Census Bureau[edit]

In 1890, the government began leasing tabulating machine from Herman Hollerith's Tabulating Machine Company, to more efficiently, expansively, and accurately produce the national census. In 1900, Hollerith raised the lease pricing. This led the newly formed U.S. Census Bureau to seek other suppliers under its new director, Simon North, in 1903. North returned most of Hollerith's machines, and the Census Bureau began using Charles F. Pidgin's tabulators. These machines proved too slow, so the Bureau undertook to develop its own machine for the 1910 census.[1] North secured a $40,000 appropriation for the project.[2]

James Powers[edit]

James Legrand Powers[3] was a mechanical engineer. He was born in Odessa, Russia, in 1871, and graduated from the Technical School of Odessa. He emigrated to the United States in 1889.[2]

The Census Bureau hired him as a technician in 1907 to help develop the competing tabulating machine. He had already done early experimental work in office machines, and had several patents to his name.[4]

Although Hollerith had numerous patents for his tabulators, Powers managed to avoid infringement, by using mechanical sensors on the punch readers, instead of electrical sensors. The new machine was faster, cheaper, more accurate, less error-prone, and less wasteful than Hollerith's or Pidgin's, while maintaining compatibility with Hollerith's punched card format.[2][3] [5][6] The key advantages of the new machine were feeder mechanisms, and the "whole card punch," an improvement over the character-by-character punch of earlier designs. A second machine was also developed by W. W. Lasker, to automate printing results.[2]

Powers secured a patent for his version of the tabulating machine, which allowed him to later create a business around the technology he had invented.[3]

A prolific inventor, he did not restrict himself to office machinery. See, for example, the Germproof Drinking Cup.[7] The inventor was a member of the Machinery Club and the American Society of Mechanical Engineering through the time of his death on Tuesday, November 8, 1927, at age 57. The New York Times ran a brief paid obituary two days later.[8]

First usage[edit]

The United States Census Bureau tested the machine in the real world by allowing the Cuban government to conduct its census in 1908-1909 using prototypes of the new tabulating machine.[6]

Corporate[edit]

After successful use in the 1910 census, Mr. Powers formed a corporation to manufacture his device and sell it commercially. The company was founded in 1911 in Newark, New Jersey. In 1914, he moved to Brooklyn, New York.

Because of its better price and capability, it almost put the Tabulating Machine Company out of business, and led to its merger into IBM and Hollerith's retirement.[9]

Originally known as Powers Tabulating Machine Company, it changed its name to Powers Accounting Machine Company to better target a broad scope of market.

In 1927, Powers Accounting Machine Company merged with the Remington Typewriter Company and Rand Kardex to form Remington Rand, which later merged with Sperry to form Sperry Rand. Sperry Rand was later renamed Unisys, and continues to do business today in the field of information processing - the same field for which Powers founded its predecessor.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Punched Card Tabulating Machines". Antique Data Processing Machines. Early Office Machines. 
  2. ^ a b c d Gray, George (May 2000). "Remington Rand Tabulating Machines". Research Community Wiki. Georgia Tech College of Computing. Retrieved 22 February 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c "History: Tabulation and Processing". Census Bureau, United States Federal Givernment. Retrieved 22 February 2012. 
  4. ^ Campbell-Kelly, Martin (2003). Encyclopedia of Computer Science (4th ed.). Chichester, UK: John Wiley and Sons Ltd. ISBN 0-470-86412-5. Retrieved 22 February 2012. 
  5. ^ "Hollerith Biography". School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland. Retrieved 22 February 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Schlenoff, Daniel C. (Sep 2009). "100 Years Ago: Punch Cards and the Census". Scientific American. Retrieved 22 February 2012. 
  7. ^ The American Stationer and Office Outfitter (April 13, 1918) Unique machine for Making Paper Cups p.32
  8. ^ "James Powers". New York Times. 10 Nov 1927. Retrieved 23 February 2012. 
  9. ^ "History: Herman Hollerith". Census Bureau website. Census Bureau, United States Federal Givernment. Retrieved 22 February 2012.