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The world is creating more data than ever before. With the invention of cutting-edge digital devices and the wave of new storage technologies, we can have access to all of the information in world history in just a few keystrokes. We have sophisticated ways of storing that data like backing up files to the cloud to massive server farms. 

Of course, storing information hasn't always been so easy. Before the invention of the computer and the 24/7 news cycle, there was still data being created—albeit at a much slower rate. And that information had to be stored somewhere and somehow. Here is a rundown of how people in the 18th century stored information before our current age of NAS drives and the almighty cloud.



Let’s go back to the basics. Since it would be centuries before magnetic tape would revolutionize data storage, a simple pen and a piece of paper was the only option to store and relay information. Before the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440, everything had to be written out letter by letter. Books were expensive to reproduce since only monks and religious figures had the time (and patience) to rewrite books by hand, they were usually religious in nature and reserved for nobility and the upper class, leaving the lower class largely illiterate.

While paper is still largely used as a data storage medium today, it’s often combined with a digital scan of the actual paper as a backup in case something happens to the original. Paper, as everyone knows, has its own slew of problems as a data storage option. It’s expensive to produce, harmful to the environment, and impossible to scale in today’s age of big data. Combined with its fragility to the elements like fire and water, it was clear there needed to be a better data storage system in the future. 


After the printing press became more widespread, newspaper and book production soared. Daily newspapers became popular around the start of the 18th century—with an estimated 337,000 different book titles printed throughout the 1700s. 

Since the Age of Enlightenment brought a new respect and interest to knowledge and education for all classes, cultural institutions like museums and libraries started being built. The British Museum, the first national public museum, was created in 1753 with a collection of over 40,000 books and manuscripts. The United States Library of Congress was created in 1800 and currently has over 170 million books. Public libraries such as these helped bridge the educational gap between the classes during this period while also ensuring books were safe and available for future generations.


Punch Cards

Before the creation of computers, punch cards were used to store data and control mechanized looms in the textile industry. As early as 1725, people were able to represent a series of simple instructions that would translate to “on” or “off” commands which the looms interpreted by reading whether a hole in the punch card had been punched or not. This simple system set up the basic building blocks of what would become the binary language of today’s computers use for communication.

Back then, one punch card could hold around 80 different characters—less than the amount of information a Tweet today can hold. Punch cards quickly became less popular as magnetic storage began to develop, but it can still be seen today in voting machines and high school and college standardized testing. 

Data Storage Today

There is a growing need for new types of data storage formats to hold the growing amount of data that’s being created every day—and scientists today are hard at work to develop these new data storage options. From DNA to holograms, new data storage technologies are growing and becoming more of a viable option to replace our current reliance on the cloud and its football field-sized data storage facilities. And while these alternative data storage options are far from being able to be implemented on a global scale, it's clear there will need to be an upgrade in our data storage tech to keep up with the growing mountain of data out there.