MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and as we continue our exploration of invention and innovation, let's move back in time a bit to the inventing past. Turns out some pretty big time innovations were born here in the D.C. region, though most of us would be hard pressed to name their parents. For instance, here's a little quiz for you. If you were to hear the following...
MR. PAUL DICKSON
He's the one who creates the digital age. This was the man who really brought us into the modern world.
Would you know who local historian, Paul Dickson, is talking about? I'll give you a hint. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, this creator of the digital age resided in Garrett Park, Md. in a succession of houses and recently Paul and I -- tell us where we are right now, Paul -- paid a visit to one.
We're in a private residence across the street from actually where I live which was at one point a house that was rented by Herman Hollerith.
Now, if that name...
...doesn't sound familiar, well, Paul Dickson says, don't despair.
He becomes a little bit marginalized. Everybody now talks about Babbage as inventing the computer.
And yet Herman Hollerith's contributions to the computer and the computing world, well, they weren't exactly small potatoes.
He was a real inventor. I mean, a real classic American, I've got an idea, eureka, inventor.
Especially when it came to data. See, in the late 1800s, people knew how to record data, they knew how to tabulate data but Hollerith took it one step further. Just in time for the 1890 census, he figured out a way to use punch cards so the data could be read by a machine.
The first tabulating machine, he does for the census. It's battery operated. And he invents a keyboard to enter the data, to actually punch the cards and when the cards go through, he would use a very small electrical impulse that would count the number of holes that it went through. And from that he would derive the numbers.
And thanks to this punched card or Hollerith card, it took just one year to tabulate the 1890 census. Tabulating the 1880 census took eight.
There were earlier digital input devices, as your card looms, which are a form of weaving. But he was the first one to actually take it and use an electrical impulse, zeros and ones, to count with it.
Hollerith eventually merged his business, the tabulating machine company...
Which is in Georgetown on 31st Street.
With a handful of others to form the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation.
And that becomes IBM, International Business Machines. So there's a line between Hollerith and IBM and the IBM card, which is, if you're old enough, you remember -- you remember the ubiquitous IBM card. But that was really the Hollerith card.
So again, no small potatoes with our man Herman.
It was like a whole new world. It was like, you know, all of a sudden you could do all this stuff, you know, and go, wow.
But Herman Hollerith isn't the only local inventor who rang in a new world. Even if his name might not ring bells, which brings us to quiz number two. Care of Washington Walks founder, Carolyn Crouch.
MS. CAROLYN CROUCH
Two inventions that came from Washington, D.C. by a German born immigrant have had astounding impacts on contemporary life.
OK. Any idea who she's talking about? Anyone? Anyone? Well, to be honest, when I met Carolyn, outside the old patent office, now the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, I didn't have a clue. Why have I never heard of him? But I wasn't alone.
I don't know. I'd never heard of him until my colleague Brian Craft told me about him. Who is obviously somewhat of a genius and a real expansive imaginative thinker.
His name was Emile Berliner.
He had left school at age 14, ends up immigrating to America. So he is basically self taught.
And in 1876, at a centennial celebration in Philadelphia...
He saw a demonstration of this new device called a telephone.
Now, obviously, this was not the telephone we know today, far from it.
People would hold a ear piece to listen but then they would have to, kind of, shout into a little sound receiver and the sound was transmitted by a magnetic current.
So our self taught young man, he's about 26 at the time, takes one look at that telephone...
And he says, I could improve that.
He hurries back to his boarding house in north west D.C.'s Penn Quarter.
Sympathetic landlady lets him set up a little inventing lab with wires extending down from his room to her room.
And Emile Berliner figures out how to make the sound travel, not via a magnetic current...
But via an electric current. It greatly improved the sound quality.
But that was just the beginning. About a decade later he encounters another invention.
We would know it today as the Victrola. The thing with the large tulip shaped sound amplifier and then it has sound recorded onto a wax cylinder.
Berliner isn't impressed by the sound quality on this one either.
So he thinks, I think, I can make that better.
And he devises a way to record the sound, not on a wax cylinder...
But on grooves on a flat disk, which we know as the long playing record and in some ways the great grandfather of the compact disk.
Thus Berliners company Gramophone is born. As is a rather innovative and memorable marketing ploy for said company, which by the way eventually became known as little something called, RCA.
He saw a painting that had a white dog cocking its head in a cute way, listening to a gramophone.
And he turned that painting...
His master's voice...
...into his company's logo.
So, thanks to him, generations and generations always recognized RCA because of this little dog, Nipper, listening to the gramophone.
Now, of course, Emile Berliner and Herman Hollerith are just two local inventors who dreamed up ways to change the world. Back in Garrett Park, historian Paul Dickson says the D.C. region always has attracted people like these guys.
We really saw, from an early day, that one of the ways we would get ahead of the rest of the world was because we had people coming here who were bright and wanted to invent stuff.
And some of them worked at major institutions.
The Carnegie Institute, the Volta Bureau where the a lot of the early inventions for the deaf came, the Smithsonian.
Well, others tinkered away on their own, laying the ground work for larger organizations, like Herman Hollerith and IBM and Emile Berliner and RCA. So next time you phone a friend, rock out to your favorite CD or toddle around on your PC, think about how much these two Washingtonians have changed your household, even if they haven't quite become household names.
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