Remington Rand punch card system
The information on this page and the next pages regarding Remington Rand, drawings and photos were provided by Mr Oliver J. Jones, Garden City, NY, USA in order to preserve some computer history.
Remington Rand, which was a competitor to IBM, offered a punch card containing 90 columns to circumvent IBM’s 80-column patent. The 90 columns were organised as two rows of 45 columns each on top of each other. While offering a larger capacity, it made Remington’s and IBM’s systems incompatible. Remmington’s punch holes were round for the same patent reason – IBM’s holes were rectangular.
Mr Jones wrote:
“I joined Remington Rand in 1947 and, with the exception of the electronic sorter, most of the equipment was already documented and running. I am amazed at how little is known about Remington’s contribution to the computing field. Most of us were hired after WW II and at that time Remington Tabulating division had been in operation since the 1930s. They had an exhibit at the 1939 Worlds Fair. We trained in Ilion New York a village in the Mohawk Valley and when a new piece of equipment came out, back we went to Ilion for more training.
I will try to give here the background of Remington Rand and its contribution to the punch card tabulating business. The photos below are all from a book given to all new employees joining the service department at that time. We were a group of young men most of us recently veterans of WW II. The training was a six-month course in Ilion, New York a small village in upstate New York Remington Rand concentrated. All its manufacturing was in this area and the school was located in the factory. Whenever a new machine was brought out you went back to Ilion for update training. We lived in furnished rooms and the winters in that area were severe salaries were very modest but the training was excellent. Upon graduation, you were assigned to a regional office in the United States. I was assigned to New York. In that area, we had many important customers like Macy’s Dept Store, The Tax Board of NYC, Brooklyn Union Gas, the US Navy Medical Dept etc.
The machines were mechanical marvels and all parts were made in Ilion by engineers and machinists from the local area. Today it would be hard to find people with the skills of these men as it’s all electronic.
Some of the machines had over 40,000 small parts and tolerances were limited to .0005 + or -. You will not find today’s machinists with the skills to turn out the complex parts that were needed to make such mechanical marvels.
IBM became a real competitor in the late 1950s and featured an 80-column card with square holes and an electronic tabulator. You may ask what happened that made IBM the leader in the field. I have a theory: Remington waited too long to convert to electronic small equipment. James Rand was a self-made man and a tough boss which led to many labor disputes. IBM had a more aggressive sales force and publicity team. Unfortunately, we waited too long to join the electronic wave. We purchased Univac to try to catch up and used some electronic systems from France ( BULL SYSTEMS ) but it was too late. The 80-column card became the norm and IBM won the business market. Today only Univac large systems survive.
Those mechanical systems I am sad to say all wound up as scrap. I doubt if one example survives today.
I left Remington Rand after twenty years in 1967. I joined a medical instrument company eventually becoming the service manager of the seven northeastern states and the Caribbean. I credit my success to the training and perseverance learned in those early days. What a shame not one of those early systems exists today. I retired in 1988 after 40 years in the customer service field.”
Signed: Oliver J. Jones
Below we show pages from a book on tabulating machines, the machines that processed punchcards as a source of information. Moreover, a scan of a 90-column punch card is provided. Detailed technical graphs show part numbers of a Collating Reproducing Punch and an Electronic Sorter (Remington Rand types 420) here.
But first the punchcard: