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Computing a machine that reads data from one medium, such as punched cards, producing lists, tabulations, or totals, usually on a continuous sheet of paper



an electromechanical digital calculating machine that automatically processes numerical and alphabetic information stored on punch cards and records the results of the computations on continuous paper or special forms. A tabulator is a basic component of a punch-card processing system. Depending on the way in which the information is represented, a distinction is made between numerical and alphanumeric tabulators.

Tabulators can operate in different ways. For example, the tabulator may produce a line-by-line printout of the numerical and alphabetic information read from each card. At the same time, sums or differences are accumulated in accumulators, or counters. After the listing of a group of cards, the tabulator prints the totals for that group.

In another mode of operation, the tabulator prints alphabetic and numerical information characterizing the information being processed, sums in the accumulators the intermediate numerical quantities (without recording them), and finally prints the totals for the given group of cards.

In a third mode of operation, the tabulator makes use of intermediate cycles. It carries out the addition or subtraction of totals stored in the accumulators, compares such totals, and performs multiplication or division of numbers. These processes are carried out over several intermediate cycles.

The capabilities of a tabulator can be substantially expanded by connecting it to auxiliary units. When the tabulator is used with a summary punch, a graphic character-sensitive punch, or a reproducer, summary punch cards can be produced in addition to a printout. When an electronic computer unit is used in conjunction with the tabulator, the tabulator can not only add and subtract numbers but also multiply and divide them in a single machine cycle.

The components of a tabulator include the following: a control unit, a punch-card reader, an arithmetic unit, a storage unit, and a unit for the output of information through printing or through the punching of cards. In accordance with the prescribed program, the control unit coordinates the operation of the other units; it automatically monitors the descriptive information on the cards and automatically transfers the results obtained in the accumulators. The machine can be switched into different modes of operation from the control console. The input unit is a mechanism that feeds punch cards into a brush station with two (upper and lower) sets of brushes that permit the information to be read from the punch cards and transmitted to the arithmetic unit, control unit, or output unit. The arithmetic and storage units are accumulators that carry out the addition and subtraction of numbers and permit a total from one accumulator to be added to or subtracted from a total in another accumulator. The output information is printed by numerical or alphanumeric printers or is punched in cards by a summary punch.

Tabulators are used in data-processing systems to handle large amounts of information where the performance of logical operations is not required.


Fedorov, M. P., and V. I. Isakov. Tabuliatory T-5 i T-5M. Moscow, 1958.
Vinokurov, P. S. Metodika proverki i naladki raboty schetno-perforatsionnykh mashin. Moscow, 1968.
Surin, N. M., and I. B. Shnaiderman. Tabuliator TA80–1. Moscow, 1973.



(computer science)
A machine that reads information from punched cards and produces lists, tables, and totals on separate forms or continuous paper.


A machine that added up numerical data in punch cards. Tabulators were used to prepare invoices, checks and "green-striped" reports as late as the 1970s. Invented by Herman Hollerith in 1890, his tabulator displayed the totals on dials. Subsequent models were able to perform additional arithmetic operations as well as print the results. See Hollerith machine, punch card and continuous forms.

First Tabulator - 1890 U.S. Census
After placing the punch card in the reader and pulling the handle down, the dials incremented, and the card was dropped into the sorting box that opened. (Image courtesy of The Computer History Museum,

A Tabulator in the 1960s
Tabulating machines such as the IBM 407 (left) were used to print millions of reports, invoices and checks. Hollerith's company evolved into IBM, and IBM was always the leading tabulating equipment vendor (see Hollerith machine). (Image courtesy of IBM.)
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Seeing the success of the tabulating machine in processing census data and recognizing its potential for analyzing such data, companies that generated large amounts of data soon were renting their own tabulating machines.
While the tabulating machine gained acceptance by larger manufacturers, the development of the accounting machine continued.
Thus faced with a vast amount of data and a need for detailed cost information, insurance companies, such as Continental Casualty, began to make extensive use of tabulating machines, especially in the area of financial analysis.
By 1920, the market for tabulating machines had expanded beyond traditional users, such as railroads and insurance companies, to large manufacturers.
By 1910, Hollerith's Tabulating Machine Company (TMC), at this point still the sole provider of such equipment to commercial customers, had broadened its insurance market by responding to some of the industry's initial needs.
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Beginning in 1915, even before it bought the British rights to produce and market Powers machines, the British Prudential Assurance had started working with the British Powers agency, the Accounting and Tabulating Machine Company (or "Acc and Tab," as it was known) to develop an alphabetical tabulator.
In 1922, as an initial step toward addressing this threat, C-T-R bought Peirce's main engineering shop (though not the shop he had set up within Metropolitan Life for his contract work) and the rights to his patents, including some alphabetical patents, and hired Peirce himself to help the firm develop its own alphabetical tabulating machine.
In effect, Campbell-Kelly examines the history of the entire tabulating machine and computer industry from the perspective of its leading firm.
That conclusion is reached if one recognizes that IBM's customers were not buying cards or machines, they were buying tabulating services--the "market" for punch cards was not distinct from the "market" for tabulating machines in any meaningful sense.
Director suggested that IBM's practice of requiring users of its tabulating machines also to buy their punch cards from IBM made economic sense only as a method of price discrimination--a strategy of selling the same product to different customers at different prices.
The historic 1956 court order was obtained by the department's antitrust division when the computer age was in its infancy and was based on IBM's conduct in the older market for tabulating machines that worked with punch cards.