Jacquard Loom card (1801 – 1990s)

The Jacquard Loom was a mechanical loom for cloth weaving, first demonstrated by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801. It used a chain of punched cards laced together to allow the loom to create complex patterns.

Any number of the cards could be chained together into a continuous sequence, with each card corresponding to one row of the design. Each position on the card corresponds to a ‘Bolus’ hook which can either be raised or stopped dependent on whether the hole is punched out of the position on the card or not. The hook raises or lowers the harness, which carries and guides the warp thread so that the weft will either lie above or below it.

Modern Jacquard looms are controlled by computers in place of the original punched cards, and can have thousands of hooks.

Charles Babbage was aware of Jacquard loom cards, and planned to use cards to store programs in his Analytical engine, first described in 1837. Later in the 19th Century, Herman Hollerith used the idea of storing information on cards to create the punched card tabulating machine which he used to input data for the 1890 US Census.

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Music box disc (1886 – )

A music box is an automatic musical instrument that produces sounds by the use of a set of pins placed on a revolving cylinder or perforations punched through a disc so as to pluck the tuned teeth (or lamellae) of a steel comb. Large music boxes were usually built for the affluent of the pre-phonograph 19th century, but some early public pay versions also existed in public places.

Interchangeable music box discs were first used in Germany in 1886, and due to aggressive marketing by the three biggest companies, rapidly overtook the existing cylinder machines. The ‘Big 3’ companies producing disc machines in the late 19th century were Symphonion and Polyphon Musikwerks in Germany, and Regina in America.

The period 1895-1905 marked the height of disk type music box production, and after this music boxes were replaced by player pianos and cylinder phonographs.

Some manufacturers continue to make large music boxes with interchangeable discs, such as Reuge in Switzerland, Sankyo Seiki in Japan and The Porter Music Box Company in the US.

Icelandic musician Björk made use of disc-mechanism music boxes in the 2001 album Vespertine, with specially cut discs. Other musicians also continue to use music boxes in their work.

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Punched card (1890 – 1980s)

Punched cards (also known as IBM cards or Hollerith cards) were used to control automated machinery or for data processing and consisted of stiff card with holes in predefined positions to represent data or commands.

Prior to their first use for data processing in the 1890 US census using cards designed by Herman Hollerith, forms of punched cards were used to control Jacquard textile looms and mechanical organs.

The cards used in the 1890 US census had round holes, 12 rows and 24 columns. In 1928, IBM developed the 80 column card, using rectangular holes, and this doubled the data that could be stored on a card. The 80 column card became the dominant type, but other formats were available.

IBM and its competitors developed a variety of machines for creating, sorting, and tabulating punched cards and by the 1950s the punched card had become ubiquitous in industry and government. They were the primary medium for data entry, data storage, and processing even before the advent of the digital computer, and millions were created every day. They were a write-once medium, and groups or ‘decks’ of cards formed programs or collections of data. Users could create cards using a desk-sized keypunch with a typewriter-like keyboard. A typing error generally necessitated repunching an entire card.

During the 1960s however, magnetic tape began to replace punched cards as the primary means for data storage. Even so, punched cards were still commonly used for data entry and programming until the mid-1980s.

The first punched cards were blank, but subsequent cards usually had printing such that the row and column position of a hole could be identified, and cards could also carry other printed information such as logos. Some cards had one upper corner cut so that cards not oriented correctly, or cards with different corner cuts, could be easily identified.

A standard 80 column punched card contains 80 bytes, so 99,981 boxes of 2,000 cards would be required to contain the same amount of data as a single 16 GB microSD card.

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Aperture card (1943 – 2000s)

An aperture card was a type of punched card into which a piece of microfilm was mounted. They were introduced in 1943 and initially used by the US military to store photographs of strategic value.

The card itself contained metadata about the image punched into the card, along with information printed across the top of the card for visual identification. The microfilm was usually on 16 or 35mm film, and contained a single image of a document, typically an engineering drawing.

Machines could be used to sort and retrieve specific cards. More recently, machines have become available to scan and digitise remaining aperture cards, and the contents of 3000 aperture cards can be stored on one CD-ROM.

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Punched tape (1846 – 1980s)

Punched tape or perforated tape was an early form of data storage, developed from interlinked cards such as those used on the Jacquard loom.

In 1846, punched tape was used for sending telegrams. Operators could type a message to the paper tape, and then sent the message at the maximum line speed from the tape.

Various encoding schemes were used over time, beginning with Baudot with 5 holes, and culminating in ASCII. A row of narrower holes served to feed the tape.

When the first minicomputers were being released, manufacturers turned to the existing mass-produced ASCII teleprinters and punched tape became a popular medium for low cost minicomputer data and program storage. Punched tape and punched cards became the primary means of mass storage for computers in the 1960s.

In the 1970s, computer-aided manufacturing equipment often used paper tape, as paper tape readers were smaller and much less expensive than punched card or magnetic tape readers. Premium black waxed and lubricated long-fibre papers, and Mylar film tape were invented so that production tapes for these machines would last longer.

Punched tape had a low information density and took a long time to load, and more than a few dozen kilobytes are impractical to handle in punched tape format. Unlike magnetic tape though, punched tape can be read decades later if acid-free paper or Mylar film was used, and can even be decoded visually if necessary.

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Piano roll (1883 – 2008)

A piano roll is a music storage medium used to operate a player piano, piano player or reproducing piano consisting of a continuous roll of paper with perforations punched into it. The roll moves over a reading system known as a ‘tracker bar’ and the playing cycle for each musical note is triggered when a perforation crosses the bar and is read. Rolls play at a specific, marked speed, where for example, 70 signifies 7 feet of paper travel in one minute.

The first paper rolls were used commercially by Welte & Sons in their Orchestrions beginning in 1883. The popularity of piano rolls peaked between 1900 and 1927.

The majority of piano rolls play on three distinct musical scales. The 65-note (with a playing range of A-1 to C#7) format was introduced in 1896 in the USA specifically for piano music. In 1900 a USA format playing all 88-notes of the standard piano scale was introduced. In 1902 a German 72-note scale (F-1, G-1 to E7) was introduced. All of these scales were subject to being operated by piano rolls of varying dimensions. The 1909 Buffalo Convention of US manufacturers standardized the US industry to the 88-note scale and fixed the physical dimensions for that scale.

Piano rolls were in continuous mass production up to 2008, being replaced by MIDI files that accomplish digitally what piano rolls do mechanically.

Metronomic or arranged rolls are rolls produced by positioning the music slots without real-time input, whereas hand played rolls are created by capturing in real-time the hand-played performance of one or more pianists upon a piano connected to a recording machine. Reproducing rolls are the same as hand-played rolls but have additional control codes to operate the dynamic modifying systems of the specific brand of piano it is designed to be played back on.