Punched cards were first used in the 18th century to store the programs used to control silk looms. In the late nineteenth century they were used by Hollerith to process census data, then widely in government and business in the era of punched card data processing. Until about the mid 1970s they were also used as an input medium in the early electronic computers.
The pocket sized Port-A-Punch was introduced by IBM in 1958 to allow the ad hoc production of small numbers of punched cards. For example, if an operator or engineer needed to introduce one or two extra control or data cards in a run they could be quickly produced on a Port-A-Punch. Another use was in program testing. A programmer might submit a thousand card programme and on its first run have it fail at, say, card 54 because of a mistake on that card. The Port-A-Punch allowed the programmer to quickly produce a new card and submit the batch of cards for their second run.
IBM claims that ‘The product was also intended for “on-the-spot” recording operations — such as physical inventories, job tickets and statistical surveys — because it eliminated the need for preliminary writing or typing of source documents. Among the Port-A-Punch’s customers and applications were: Ford Motor Company, to locate new car prospects and other marketing data; New York State Department of Public Works, to conduct traffic surveys in the field; Reynolds Metals Company, for sales personnel call reports; U.S. Army Ordnance Tank Automotive Command, to report on vehicle R&D tests; Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company, for time reporting by field installers and repairmen; Jackson Brewing Company, to invoice customers at time of delivery; Thompson-Ramo Woolridge Corporation, for faster production line reporting; Varina Wholesale Builders Supply Company, for point-of-sale recording of chain store sales and inventory data; and Peckham Road Corporation, to prepare job tickets on customer shipments leaving various plants.’
I doubt if Port-A-Punchs were used to produce more than a few cards at a time. They were too slow. For larger volumes of data it was faster and easier to enter the data on coding sheets and then have cards produced on a machine such as a IBM 029 Card Punch by a skilled operator.
The images below show the plastic mask used on the Port-A-Punch to ensure accurate punching, the card holder and the punching tool.