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Icons of Progress

The IBM Punched Card

No product, idea, or achievement is possible without our most critical asset—the collective thought capital of hundreds of thousands of IBMers. The expertise, technical skill, willingness to take risk and overall dedication of IBM employees have led to countless transformative innovations through the years. Meet team members who contributed to this Icon of Progress.

  • James W. Bryce 

    James Bryce
    One of IBM’s most prolific inventors, James Bryce is credited with more than 500 US and foreign patents.

    IBM’s top inventor of the twentieth century was hired by the company (then called Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company) in 1917, became the chief engineer in 1922, and spent a total of nearly three decades innovating for IBM. He was tasked with reviewing his colleagues’ designs for the new punched card, and determining which of the designs the company should pursue as the core of its business. Bryce was always recognizing the possibilities of increasing the speed of functional productivity of calculating machines and computers, and was known by his colleagues for continually pushing the envelope on what technology could accomplish. Bryce was one of ten men honored as the “greatest living inventors” at the centennial celebration of the US Patent Office in 1936.

  • Clair D. Lake 

    Clair Lake
    Winning a blind internal competition, Clair Lake designed one of IBM’s most transformative data storage inventions, the 1928 IBM punched card.

    Lake was a machine designer, and later chief engineer for IBM. In addition to designing the winning version of the new IBM card in 1928, he developed and introduced the first IBM Type 1 Total Printing and Listing Tabulator in the early 1920s, and later gained additional distinction as a co-creator of the IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC), at the time (1944) the largest electromechanical calculator ever built and the first automatic digital calculator in the US.

  • John Royden Peirce 

    “His mind is a fine laboratory / Our problems he solves with great ease / Unmatched by his creative ability / All IBM patrons to please”

    J. Royden Peirce joined IBM as an engineer when the company bought his patents on a punched card machine. Along with Clair Lake, Peirce was tasked with submitting a proposed redesign of the punched card. His team developed a 45-column design that allowed for the storage of alphabetic information in addition to numbers, technically allowing for more varied information to be stored. His design of the card, however, required more retooling of the punched card machines. Though Lake’s design was ultimately selected, Peirce continued to be an important inventor for IBM, accumulating numerous patents that were celebrated with an IBM song.

  • Fred M. Carroll 

    An IBM inventor for 40 years, Fred Carroll helped to revolutionize the entire business machines industry.

    Fred Carroll joined IBM (then Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company) in 1916, as a young, energetic inventor with several patents already under his belt. His first patent, earned at age 27, was for the “cyclometer,” a mileage recorder for bicycles that he had developed as a boy. As IBM’s business changed through the decades, so did the technology Carroll pursued, but he remained throughout his career a perfectionist. His meticulous attention to design detail invariably led to the development of a better machine, although it sometimes taxed the draftsmen and technicians who worked for him. “His only hobby was his job,” said one of his former associates at the Product Development Laboratory in Endicott. “If he wasn't actually creating something, he was reading technical or scientific papers to raise his own educational level.” Fred’s design of the Carroll Rotary Press (1924), a high-speed press containing a printing cylinder, revolutionized the manufacturing of punched tabulating cards in the 1920s.