Sorter for U.S. Bureau of the Census Tabulating System

From 1890 through 1950, information collected in the decennial U.S. census of population was punched onto cards and compiled using tabulating machines. At first, the Bureau of the Census rented machines on the design of Herman Hollerith. Concerned by the high rental charges, the Bureau decided to develop tabulating equipment in its own shop. This horizontal card sorter is one result of that effort.
The iron and steel instrument is designed for the mechanical, single-column sorting of 24-column cards. Cards are fed from the left.The device mechanically senses any one column at a time and sends cards to one of 12 pockets or, if no punch exists, into the thirteenth or reject pocket. A wooden shelf is at the front of the pockets and another one on the left side of the machine. A motor drives the sorter.
As presently stored, one crate contains the sorter, and the second contains a metal piece painted black that has 12 pockets that apparently fits below.
According to Museum records, the machine was first used in the processing of Vital Statistics in 1927 and then in the 1930 Census of Population. It was reconstructed in 1959.
Accession File.
L. E. Truesdell, The Development of Punch Card Tabulation in the Bureau of the Census 1890–1940, Washington: U. S. Department of Commerce, 1965.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
U. S. Census Bureau
Physical Description
iron (overall material)
steel (overall material)
paper (overall material)
wood (overall material)
overall: 110 cm x 183 cm x 53 cm; 43 5/16 in x 72 1/16 in x 20 7/8 in
place made
United States: District of Columbia, Washington
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Census, US
Science & Mathematics
Tabulating Equipment
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Tabulating Equipment
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Transfer from U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census

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