punch card

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Financial, Wikipedia.

punched card

(esp US), punch card
(formerly) a card on which data can be coded in the form of punched holes. In computing, there were usually 80 columns and 12 rows, each column containing a pattern of holes representing one character
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Punch Card


(or punched card), a recording medium in the form of a card made of paper, paperboard, or, more rarely, plastic and of a standard shape and size; data are recorded on the card by the punching of holes. Punch cards are used primarily for the input and output of data in computers and as the basic recording medium in punch-card processing equipment. They exist in many types, which differ in shape, size, volume of information stored, and the shape and arrangement of the holes. Most of the punch cards used in the USSR have 80 columns—45-column cards are encountered in obsolete computer units—and are made of heavy paper stock 0.18 mm thick in the shape of a rectangle with sides of 187.4 and 82.5 mm. The top left corner of the card is cut off for convenience in sorting and stacking. The columns are marked off across the card from left to right. The card is also divided into 12 rows—10 primary and 2 supplementary. Up to 80 characters—approximately 10 to 15 words—can be recorded on one punch card. The processing rate for machine punch cards can reach 2,000 cards/min. Data are read by means of electromechanical readers or photoelectric cells. Punch cards with 90, 40, and 21 columns and 6, 12, and 10 rows, respectively, are also used in other countries. Special forms of punch cards are edge-punched cards, which are used in information systems, and cards for automatic typewriters.


Roomets, S. Perfokarty i ikh primenenie. Tallinn, 1965.
Anisimov, B. V., and K. S. Khomiakov. Ustroistva podgotovki dannykh dlia elektronnykh vychislitel’nykh mashin. Moscow, 1972.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

punch card

[′pənch ‚kärd]
(computer science)
A medium by means of which data are fed into a computer in the form of rectangular holes punched in the card. Also known as punched card.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

punch card

This article is provided by FOLDOC - Free Online Dictionary of Computing (foldoc.org)

punch card

(1) See loyalty punch card.

(2) An early storage medium made of thin cardboard stock that held data as patterns of punched holes. Also called "punched" cards, each of the 80 or 96 columns held one character. The holes were punched by an operator at a keypunch machine or by an attached card punch peripheral. The cards were fed into the computer by a card reader.

From 1890 Until the 1970s
Punch cards were synonymous with data processing for 80 years. Concepts were simple: the database was the file cabinet; a record was a card, and processing was performed on separate machines called "sorters," "collators," "reproducers," "calculators" and "accounting machines." After the 1950s, business transactions were punched into cards and fed to a computer to update the electronic files, first on tape and then on disk.

Gone But Not Forgotten
Today, the punch card is obsolete; however, some voting systems used the punch-card method until 2014. The presidential election of 2000 brought punch cards into infamy and made the U.S. the brunt of jokes worldwide for using such an antiquated error-prone system. The solution in many states was to migrate to electronic voting machines, which were developed without audit trails that prevented ballots from being recounted in close elections. So much for progress! See e-voting, sorter, tabulator, accounting machine, plugboard and Hollerith machine.

IBM Punch Card
Stemming from Hollerith's punch card tabulating system in 1890, punch cards "were" synonymous with data processing for more than 70 years. IBM and Sperry Rand were the two major providers of equipment. This 80-column IBM card shows a typical customer master record.

Jacquard Loom Inspiration
In operation decades before, the Jacquard loom was inspiration for Hollerith's machines. See Jacquard loom. (Image courtesy of The Computer History Museum, www.computerhistory.org)
Copyright © 1981-2019 by The Computer Language Company Inc. All Rights reserved. THIS DEFINITION IS FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY. All other reproduction is strictly prohibited without permission from the publisher.
References in periodicals archive ?
Among machines designed to work with punch cards were keypunches (to encode the cards), sorters (to put them in proper order for processing) and readers (like tabulators and calculators, to aggregate and output information).
The secretary of state reviewed the advantages of optical scanning equipment, including accuracy and speed of counts, but fell short of an all-out condemnation of punch cards or an explicit endorsement of optical scanning statewide.
If any of us had bothered to research the subject thoroughly prior to November 7, 2000, we would have known that questions about the accuracy of punch card balloting had been around since the technology was introduced in the 1960's.
From humble beginnings as a recycler of computer punch cards, Allan Company, Baldwin Park, Calif., has grown steadily to become the largest paper recycler in the Golden State.
The bill bans punch card voting equipment, requires that electronic voting equipment be programmed to reject an overvote and advise the voter of an undervote, allots $20 million in state funds to counties, requires the state to develop a standard ballot, eliminates the runoff primary in case no candidate receives a majority in the primary election, makes nonpartisan the race for supervisor of elections, authorizes a statewide database for voter registration, requires increased training and recruitment of poll workers, calls for posting a voter's bill of rights at each polling place, and ensures that voters standing in line when the polling places close are allowed to cast ballots.
In both, a metal-tipped stylus is placed through a circular hole in a clear molded polycarbonate sheet over a position on a punch card ballot, presumably corresponding to the voter's choice, driven through a partially incised rectangle in the card, carrying this effluvium, the "chad," through a slot formed by strips of rubber lying directly beneath the punch card.
Jeb Bradley offers his take on the Florida Affair, upon returning from a six-week trip to Nepal, where, we'll assume, they don't use punch card ballots.
These secondary elevations are animated by the syncopated rhythm of random window openings, perforating the dourly functional surfaces like a computerized punch card. At eaves level, the gap between the glazed epidermis and the inner skin is sealed by aluminium flashing; horizontal slits between the variably sized glass panels help to ventilate the cavity.
For example, certain punch card ballots are confusing to voters, while sections of the ballot on mechanical lever voting machines are too high for shorter people to see easily.
But the experience was not entirely useless: "We found, however, that the punch card served our purpose very much better than the written card previously used.
FROM THE OLD-TIME HOLE punch card to the high-tech smart card-as life becomes more complex, security technology becomes more encompassing.