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Definition: sorting needle


A device that enabled punch card operators to determine if a column in a large deck of cards (data records) was punched with the same code (same hole). If a card deck only an inch or so thick was held to the light, one could see through the holes; however, a four or five-inch deck of cards required the needle. The only other method was to break up the deck into smaller chunks or wire a tabulating machine plugboard and print the contents. The needle was quicker. See punch card.





Punch Card and Needle
The needle was carefully inserted and jiggled to see if it would pass through the entire deck. These examples are IBM 80-column cards, whereas Remington Rand's 90-column cards had round holes, and the needle looked like an ice pick. (Needle image courtesy of Clarence Thompson.)