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Bell Telephone Laboratories - Punch Cards
March 1955 Radio & Television News

March 1955 Radio & TV News
March 1955 Radio & Television News Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Punch cards have been used in computer systems since the very early days of digital programming. They were probably the first form of read-only memory (ROM), come to think of it. I hate to have to admit it, but the meager computer used in my high school computer lab (circa early-mid 1970s) used punched cards. I never took the class, but stories abounded of how pranksters would shuffle a stack of punch cards while the student programmer wasn't watching and then get a good laugh when nothing worked. There are also plenty of cases where a stack was inadvertently knocked onto the floor and had to be laboriously re-ordered. IBM is the brand that comes to most people's minds when thinking about the old punched card computer systems, but other companies like NCR (National Cash Register), HP (Hewlett-Packard), DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation), and plenty of others others played in the realm. This advertisement from Bell Telephone Laboratories boasted of their automated call routing computer system that used a punched card programming technique to optimally connect telephones from point A to point B in the least amount of time. It was ground-breaking at the time, which was 1955.

Bell Telephone Laboratories Ad

Bell Telephone Laboratories Punch Cards, March 1955 Radio & Televsion News - RF CafeHow your telephone call asks directions ... and gets quick answers

Perforated steel cards, which give directions to the Long Distance dial telephone system, are easy to keep up to date. New information is clipped (l) and punched (2) by hand on a cardboard template. This guides the punch-press that perforates a steel card (3), and the two are checked (4). The new card is put into service in the card translator (5).

When the Bell System's latest dial equipment receives orders to connect your telephone with another in a distant city, it must find - quickly and automatically - the best route.

Route information is supplied in code - as holes punched on steel cards. When a call comes in, the dial system selects the appropriate card, then reads it by means of light beams and photo-transistors. Should the preferred route be in use the system looks up an alternate route.

It is a simple matter to keep thousands of cards up to date when new switching points are added or routing patterns are changed to improve service. New cards are quickly and easily punched with the latest information to replace out-of-date cards.

This efficient, flexible way of keeping your dial system up to the minute was devised by switching engineers of Bell Telephone Laboratories, who are continually searching for ways to improve service and to lower costs. Right now most of the Long Distance dialing is done by operators, but research is hastening the day when you will be able to dial directly to other telephones all over the nation.

Bell Telephone Laboratories

Improving telephone service for America provides careers for creative men in scientific and technical fields.



Posted March 2, 2020

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