Punch Cards

Punch cards have been used to control the operation of machinery from the early nineteenth century, when the Frenchman Joseph Marie Jacquard patented an attachment to a loom in which a series of punched cards (one for each row of the weave) controlled the threads raised in producing the pattern. Versions of the Jacquard loom were adopted only in France but Great Britain, United States, and around the world. The Textiles collection at NMAH contains extensive materials relating to Jacquard-style loom attachments. These include designs for fabrics woven with them, cards and sets of cards, a machine for cutting such cards, and related patent models. In addition, Textiles has coverlets, shawls, and fabric samples woven with such looms.

The Englishman Charles Babbage greatly admired Jacquard’s invention. He suggested that punch cards might be used to govern the operation of computing devices, although he did not transform this idea into a practical product. By the late nineteenth century, conductors on railway cards routinely used very simple punch cards to record the destination of passengers on trains.

Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
Date made
Jacquard attachment was made in the 1840s, the loom frame below was made in the late 18th century.
inventor of jacquard attachment
Jacquard, Joseph Marie
ID Number
TE.T11685.000
catalog number
T11685.000
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
ID Number
TE.T08722.000
catalog number
T08722.000
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
ID Number
TE.E186089A
catalog number
TE*E186089A
accession number
14777
catalog number
T 6089
In 1840, the English mathematician Charles Babbage visited Europe, spending considerable time in the Italian city of Turin, where he expounded on the principles of his analytical engine.
Description
In 1840, the English mathematician Charles Babbage visited Europe, spending considerable time in the Italian city of Turin, where he expounded on the principles of his analytical engine. These punch cards represent his thinking about how the operation of a computing device might be controlled by punch cards.
One card is white on both sides. The other is tan on one side and grayish-brown on the other. Each card has round holes at both ends, as well as two rows of round holes in the middle. There also are cuts in the top and bottom edges.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1840-style
ID Number
1992.3054.01
nonaccession number
1992.3054
catalog number
1992.3054.01
These four stock cards bearing railroad conductors’ punch marks were collected by Homer N. Lockwood.
Description
These four stock cards bearing railroad conductors’ punch marks were collected by Homer N. Lockwood. The inscription on one card explains: “These four cards, punched, I carried with me throughout the United States, thence to Mexico afterwards around the world, and thus preserved punch marks of the Railroad Conductors of the Globe.” One card is autographed by President Benjamin Harrison, its reverse by President Porfirio Diaz of Mexico. Another carries the autograph of Sanford B. Dole, a Hawaiian Islands lawyer and jurist.
Bequest of Homer N. Lockwood, 1913
Location
Currently not on view
associated person
Lockwood, Homer N.
ID Number
PL.014507
catalog number
14507
accession number
56368

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.