Keypunch Operator

It’s graduation season and that got me thinking back thirty-three (!) years to my own high school graduation.

It was May 25, 1976 and it was another lifetime. My first “real” job after graduation was at a mining company working as a keypunch operator. A keypunch operator? Yes, a keypunch operator. They’re an extinct breed here in the twenty-first century, but we were a vital part of business back then.

Our work would come in to us in batches. A batch could either be a set of time cards bundled together in an elastic band, or a set of invoices paper clipped together. The time cards were always my favorite thing to do. They would be loaded into the keypunch machine and one by one they would feed into a window directly in front of where I sat. Employees would have written the number of hours they worked each day and I would key those numbers so that they would punch little holes in the appropriate place on the card.

When one of us finished keying a batch, the punched cards would be put back into our in-basket to be verified at a later time. Verifying was simply keying the same thing over again to identify any mis-punched holes which would require that a new card be created.

Keypunching was the kind of work that allowed one to shift their brain into auto-pilot. When one got good enough at keying there was little thought required because the fingers would automatically move to they keys based on the numbers that the eyes saw. There was a lot of deep thought that one could do during keypunching.

My best friend today was a keypunch operator in her past life as well. We both have said that keypunching was one of the best jobs we ever had.

Fast forward to 2009 and the time card employees at the company where I work key their own time into the computer. Keypunch operators have gone the way of the Edsel and the do-do bird.

I can’t help but wonder about some of the high tech jobs that young people are taking today. Which ones will go the way of the keypunch operator in the years to come?


I’m a writer, reader, and creative. I thought by now I’d have things figured out, but I keep coming up with more questions. I think that’s okay. I’m here most mornings pondering ordinary things and the thin places where faith intersects.
  1. Keypunching sounds fun! I'm a year shy of being as ancient as you, and I worked during high school at a realor's office. It was a lot of hard work, but I did learn to draw house plans on graph paper. 🙂 My three teens are employed as a personal care attendant, night shift at corner CVS, and grocery clerk at locally owned store.

  2. Hi Linda,
    I'm more ancient than both you and Angie. I graduated HS in 1966 and my first job was as a secretary, using an IBM Selectric typewriter,which also went the same way as the Edsel and the do-do bird. I can't believe we used to type things with carbon paper and have to re-type whenever there were major changes. Thank goodness for word processing and computers.
    Karen Walker

  3. I think that type of job probably would have drove me nuts. My first job was as a library assistant. I worked at my small city library and shelved books, helped with the summer reading program, etc. This was all before we started to use computers to check books out. We were just getting all the books prepped for use in that type of electronic system when I went to college.

  4. You brought back lots of memories of my days of working part time at college doing keypunch. And I used the Selectric typewriter and my father drove an Edsel. What stories we have!

  5. This brought back memories for me, my first office job… My best friend at work was the key punch operator, and I typed all of the company's management checks with a manual typewriter. The company I worked for moved out of our town many years ago, and your post made me go on Google to see what happened to the company. I was surprised to learn that it merged with another big company, and it is now in 6 different countries.

  6. It's interesting to read how many people did that job! I never knew anyone who did.
    My first job was as a sewing machine operator at a pajama factory. I last three days! UGH Hated it!

  7. I took a course for keypunch operating way back when I was a young adult. I never actually went anywhere with it and ended up working in a bank instead. I feel like I'm getting to know you better now than when you lived here! Isn't it funny the things you find out? Kind of cool!

  8. I graduated in 1975 and worked in the high school office on the switchboard! As in Lily Tomlin's one ringy dingy type. We've come a long way!

    1. My story . . Your story …. SAME story!! I graduated in 1954 and worked in the high school office on the switchboard .. yep one ringy dingy. . . “Is this the party to whom I’m speaking”? Can you believe this match in beginnings? I loved that job!!

  9. Before having her big family in the early 40s my mother worked as a keypunch operator. I never thought about it much when I was younger. Today I am an artist but have been working and playing with computers since 1985. I assumed I got the itch from my dad who was a pioneer with the teletype system but now I understand that this tech side came from both my parents.

  10. I started as a Keypunch operator in 1966. Only worked in two different places. Eventually went to key to disc(no cards). I loved my job and love to tell people what I did and see the look on their face.

    1. Ah, so nice to find another who appreciated the satisfaction of keypunching! I’d do that job again today in a heartbeat if it existed.

      1. I was trained & offered a job by my Co-op employers at over double the money I was earning in their check office ,although I loved it the noise was too much in a massive office clack clacking lol so I returned to the check office ….happy days ,lots of memories ?

      2. My mom was a keypunch operator from 1951 – 1981 for Southern Railway and before that she held that position for various companies in the D.C. area. I guess she was one of the best, punching, verifying, or whatever came up next. When she passed at age 92 in 2012 I inherited her mementos, one of which was an IBM drum for program for keypunch. It sits here before me as I type and I recall many stories she shared about her work, which she loved.

  11. No–no! I was 3rd in line at our insurance company to be sent to Minneapolis to be trained in this horrible job. That was I the early fifties. I had a near (or possibly real) nervous breakdown. My folks had to call in the doctor..It was decided that the two previous girls who had gone to the big city would train me. Not good. I needed variety and MOVEMENT. Sitting for hours doing keypunch was not in the cards. I got married and had ten kids–now that called for “movement”!

  12. Raising a family with ten children would certainly require movement and stamina!!

  13. I arrived at this article while looking for “history” on the job my mother had when I was born (1950). She was a key punch operator for IBM.
    We are making a family tree book and would like to find some photos of the 1950s style of key punch cards and machines to include with her section. Any suggestions?

    1. I don’t Carol. I worked as a keypunch operator in the late 1970s so things would have changed I expect.

  14. What is a Sr. AKPO? This is the job title listed on my deceased sister employment records from NYC.

    1. I can only guess. Senior Assistant Key Punch Operator maybe?

  15. In 1971-73, my 20 hours/week work-study job at the junior college I attended my first two years was keypunching for the Admissions and Records department. I learned everything there was to know about duping and “drum card programming” on that job. Later on, after transferring to a university, I learned (the hard way initially) that an IBM 026 and and IBM 029 keypunch machine made different hole punch differences. I only remember one of them. The @ sign was 4-8 punch on one and 7-8 punch on the other one.

    1. It was a different world, wasn’t it? Thanks for stopping by today.

  16. That was my first job out of high school way back in 1957. It was for GE Corp. I wasn’t very good at it & was the first to let go 6 months later when the moved out of state.From there I went to work for a bank posting bank statements into a bookkeeping machine. IRight now I’m writing all this into my I Phone. As they say we’ve come a long way baby.

    1. Wow! Significant technology changes since 1957 for sure! Isn’t it an amazing world?

  17. my first job as a teenager in Staten Island almost 40 years ago was as a keypunch operator! omG i loved it. Saks Fifth Avenue ticket receipts ona Sars? machine…tickets from all their dept locations which i thought was cool to see different city names. and i typed the numbers really quickly fun! lol then ran the ticket thru in front of me. i made the minimum wage at that time which in NYC was $3.35. if id work on minor holidays id make triple time! & $10 an hour was a big deal back then to a kid. funny, i just recently did lots of mindless medical record scanning & data entry work and actually LOVED it too! there is something so meditative about the repetition. glad i came across this read. thanks for sharing
    (: love to All xo

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