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          A bill full of holes

    This is an old cardboard utility bill, showing quite a few languages -- Hebrew, Arabic, English, some barely legible rubber stamps and an illegible scrawled signature. But the most interesting one, technologically, is the language that only a computer could read -- the punched holes.
    Punched cards were used extensively by programmers to program mainframe computers (the only kind that existed at the time), but here we see how they were also shared with ordinary mortals, in what for most citizens in the fifties was as close as they ever got to a computer.
Punched electric bill
Click photo to enlarge
    This is a monthly bill of the Israel Electric Company, dating back to 1958 (or is it '53? The date is too faded to tell for sure). For about 2 decades, until optical-reader fonts were introduced on bills, this technology was ubiquitous and familiar to all. It appears that another section of the card had been torn off and kept as a receipt; the part shown here was sent to the company upon payment. The punched holes were used to allow a computer to credit the account, and possibly to sort the cards for archiving. As a matter of fact, this application predates the electronic computer -- Herman Hollerith introduced punched cards for tabulation of the 1890 US Census, where they were sorted automatically according to the hole patterns. He then went on to found the Tabulating Machine Company, which later became IBM...

Exhibit provenance:
    This is a gift from my friend Eli, who donated it to my collection.

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Copyright 2005 N. Zeldes. All rights reserved.