1914: the REAL age of Big Data


Does this sound familiar?

“Millions of dollars yearly are spent in the collection of data, with the fond expectation that the data will automatically cause the correction of the conditions studied.”

It could be written today. But it’s from Brinton’s book. The first page, in fact. The quote is 100 years old.


With punch cards and tabulating machines, the office workers of 1914 could process – wait for it – three thousand records per hour!

While that sounds quaint today it reveals an important point. We’re always going to be in an age of big data. We always have that little bit more data than we can process and the tools we have are always going to be just about good enough to do 80-90% of the things we want them to do.

The machine above was invented by Herman Hollereith (check out his hipster mustache on his wikipedia page) partly in response to the painfully slow manual processing of the late 19th century US census.

Leave a Reply