Souvenir and Promotional Cards

Part of the Punched Card Collection
by Douglas W. Jones
THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA Department of Computer Science

Distributing souvenier punched cards was a common way to advertise that an institute was on the cutting edge of high technology; this remained true even when cards had become nearly obsolete because of the strong association in the public mind between cards, computers and modernity. This use continued in computer museums as the punched card era came to an end, but it is now fading, as computer museums not have difficulty finding sources of cards.

Click on any image for a high-resolution version. All images were scanned at 600 dpi and edited to remove streaks caused by bad (or dust occluded) pixels in the scanner. Note that, prior to 1978, all material printed in the US without a copyright notice was automatically in the public domain; this also applies to most material printed before 1989 without a notice. Beware, however, that institutional logos are typically protected by trademark law and cannot be used in a manner that conflicts with the trademark owner's rights.

The Bicentennial of the United States

 [IBM's US Bicentennial punched card]

IBM offered this souvenir/commemorative version of their generic 5081 card in 1976. The added artwork is a nice image of the Liberty Bell. Despite the fact that there is no break in the grid row and column numbers, the bell has been drawn and positioned in a way that is quite prominent without obscuring more than a very few numberes in the grid. A high resolution scan is available.

This card was clearly intended for mass use a a punched card, but with the understanding that many punched card users would save a few as mementos of the Bicentennial.

The Computer Museum

 [The Computer Museum punched card]

The Computer Museum opened in Boston in 1979 and closed in 1999, when most of its collection was moved to the Computer History Museum in California. For the first half of its run, punched cards were in decline but still widely available, and the museum had these cards printed for visitors to punch. During the era that these cards were available, it is likely that most museum visitors punched a card and took it home as a souvenir.

Dubna Nuclear Research Instutite

 [Dubna Nuclear Research Institute punched card]

This card from the latter years of the Soviet Union was distributed by the nuclear research institute at Dubna, a suburb of Moscow. The logo is based on the building housing one of the institute's particle accelerators, surrounded by the stylized electron orbits of the Bohr atom, a common symbol for atomic research. The 1990 calendar printed on the card makes it clear that the card was distributed as a souvenir or promotional item.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

 [Lawrence Livermore National Labortory museum gold card]
 [Lawrence Livermore National Labortory museum white card]

These almost identical cards from the computer museum at the Lawrence Livermore Labs is famous for its role in nuclear weapons development, but it also has a vigorous research program in computing, and as something of a spinoff, it opened a museum of computing. The cards were printed as souvenirs for museum visitors, who could punch them on a keypunch at the museum. The cards also include a self-interpreting legend in the left margin.

The Octopus on these cards is probably a reference to the Octopus Network, an internal network at Lawrence Livermore that linked over 1000 remote terminals to 6 CDC 6600 and 7600 mainframes in the early 1970s.

San Diego Presbyterian Men's Club

 [Promoting a talk to the San Diego Presbyterian Men's Club]

This card, from the late 1950s or early 1960s promotes a talk at the East San Diego Presbyterian Men's Club. Sadly, it does not give a date, so we can only guess. Think has been and IBM corporate slogan since Thomas J. Watson came to the company in 1914. The topic of the meeting was to discuss "one of the most amazing machines of our time," presumably, computers.

The card began as a standard IBM 5280 card. It was overprinted with the invitation to the meeting, gang punched with example text, and then run through an interpreter twice to reproduce the punched text along the top edge of the card.

You can tell it was gang punched, because keypunches could easily print as they punched. Keypunches could be used to duplicate cards (one every few seconds), but to punch hundreds of identical cards, a gang punch (which did not print) was faster. It took two passes through the interpreter because IBM's interpreters could not print more than 60 characters per pass. Note that the IBM 5280 card has column numbers for the punched data and also column numbers for the interpreter's printing.