Hole puncher history: Google salutes the hole punch in its latest Doodle

If you have a hole punch on your desk, pick it up and give it a squeeze this morning. The concept of a device that punches holes in paper and cardboard is 131 years old today: an anniversary that Google has decided to celebrate with today’s Google.

Hole puncher history: Google salutes the hole punch in its latest Doodle

There’s nothing worse than everyone forgetting your birthday, and thanks to Google’s sketch, the hole punch will enjoy its day in the sun – although you can’t help but think that anything slightly more noteworthy would have gotten the nod ahead of it. Prince Charles – born exactly 62 years after the hole puncher patent was filed – must be particularly ticked off.

But back to the hole punch. The doodle sees every letter of “Google” barring the “L” created from discarded colourful paper discs. The “L” is a single piece of blue paper that gets punched, creating two eye holes. The newly formed anthropomorphic paper creature does a happy jig, despite having just had the most uncomfortable surgery performed without anaesthetic.

Hole puncher history

There is some dispute over who invented the hole puncher. One patent from 1885 credits a “conductor’s punch” to Benjamin Smith. The device featured a spring-loaded hole punch, and a receptacle to catch the confetti.

But eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that was in fact 132 years ago. Instead, Google credits the invention to the German Friedrich Soennecken, who one year later patented the Papierlocher für Sammelmappen on 14 November 1886. While Smith’s device was more for ticketing, Soennecken was laser-focused on stationary, having already developed a type of calligraphy known as “round writing,” and later the ring binder for all his holey sheets of paper to be collected in.

If the date involved wasn’t a giveaway, Google’s accompanying blog post makes it pretty clear which side the search engine comes down on, referring to the hole puncher as an essential “artifact of German engineering”.

The hole punch, or paper punch as it’s often referred to, varies in size, as do the number of holes. In 1893, Charles Brooks patented a hole punch called a ticket punch which, as the name suggests, was used to punch holes in tickets. This model had a built-in pot to catch the round pieces of punched paper. 

“It’s a familiar scene with a familiar tool: the gentle rat-tat-tat on the table as you square up a dangerously thick stack of papers, still warm from the printer,” the blog post begins. “The quiet anticipation and heady uncertainty as you ask yourself the ultimate question: can it cut through all this?

“The satisfying, dull ‘click!’ of the blade as it punches through the sheets. The series of crisp, identical holes it produces, creating a calming sense of unity among an otherwise unbound pile of loose leaf. And finally, the delightful surprise of the colourful confetti byproduct – an accidental collection of colourful, circular leftovers.”

The irony of Google celebrating a tool that it’s doing more than anyone else to make obsolete shouldn’t be lost on anyone. You don’t need a hole punch when all your figures and data can be comfortably viewed on a Chromebook’s screen. A Chromebook that takes up less space than a ring binder, and can be moved from office to office, connecting to Google Drive to collect all the data from the cloud.

“As modern workplaces trek further into the digital frontier, this centuries-old tool remains largely, wonderfully, the same,” the blog piece ends.

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