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Question Your World: What do Looms and Laptops have in Common?

If you’re reading this you must be using some sort of computer. Most of us have an idea about the origins of our modern computer units, but sometimes explaining the lineage of these machines leads only up to the first design. The big question is - how did we get all the way to a computing machine? We could not have gone from fire or the wheel straight to iTunes, right? What’s responsible for the giant leaps and bounds in technology that make our life what it is today? The process of science, that’s how! Watch the Science Museum of Virginia's "Question Your World" video to learn more about how we got from the Loom to the Laptop.

Clothing, oddly enough, has a distant relation to the machine that is allowing you to read these words right now. In the early 1800s, Joseph-Marie Jacquard invented a mechanical power loom that could weave really intricate patterns in fabric. The designs of fabric were rooted in a wooden slot card that controlled the loom’s weaving directions. 

A few decades later, Charles Babbage used this slot card idea to create a machine that calculated numbers based on a paper slot card, his machine had the way cool name of ‘The Difference Engine.’ Instead of resulting in a lovely rug with intricate colored designs, Babbage had intricate data and numbers punched into a card. The detailed weaving concept inspired detailed data processing. 

Then, Herman Hollerith took Babbage’s paper slot idea to the next level by creating a system that could input detailed numbers and data on a larger scale. This invention was soon picked up by the U.S. Census Bureau and Hollerith was rewarded quite nicely. So, what does a math-freak do with a lot of money in the late 1800s? Well, this particular math-addict helped co-found a little company that we now know as IBM. The rest, as they say, is history…or cache and cookies.

Want to know more? Check out these sites:

History of Computers

Punched Card's Pedigree 

Article by Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia

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