punch card

A Hole Lot of Data: Origin of Data Storage

Before hard drives, CD's, and USB's, data was stored on paper cards or tape where the presence and absence of holes represented instructions, communications, or data.


Beginning in 1725, punched tape was widely used the textile industry. They were used to operate and automate textile looms. The punched holes represented a set of instructions that controlled the patterns that were woven. In 1801, paper tape was created by chaining together a series of punched cards which was simpler and easier to repair.


In 1832, Semyon Korsakov, a Russian inventor, was the first to propose the use of punch cards in informatics. He invented a device that would facilitate the search for information stored in punch cards.


In the late 1800's, Herman Hollerith expanded upon that idea. He suggested that punch cards could be used to record and process digital data. The presence or absence of a hole at a specific location on the card would represent a piece of data and these series of holes could be processed by a machine into meaningful statistics. This would be known as the tabulating machine and was first widely used in the 1890 US census.

Hollerith later on founded the Tabulating Machine Company, which manufactured tabulating machines used to create, sort, and tabulate punch cards. The Tabulating Machine Company would later on become the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM)


In the twentieth century, the National Security Agency (NSA) used paper tape to store cryptographic keys that encrypted and decrypted messages sent and received though various communications channels.

Paper tape was used over the more recent magnetic tape due to its many advantages. Paper tape is unaffected by magnetic fields and can be read decades later (especially on acid-free paper). Magnetic tape can not only be damaged by magnetic fields but they will eventually deteriorate along with the data stored with it. Paper tape could also be decoded visually without the use of a machine and in dire situations, can be easily destroyed to prevent falling into enemy hands.


Punched paper was the primary medium for data entry, storage, communication, and processing which dominated the industry for nearly a century before becoming obsolete for the modern data storage we know today.

In the age of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, Blockplate's design takes inspiration from the past and returns to the roots of data storage. Blockplate stores your seed on an offline, physical medium that is independent of the increasing sophistication of cyber security threats.

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