In November 1958, at a six-day international conference devoted to scientific information, the inventor Hans Peter Luhn demonstrated a series of his electromechanical machines.

Taking in a large number of texts—typically, articles from 500 to 5,000 words in length—the KWIC system could quickly and automatically construct a kind of index.

His many inventions seemed to belong to an earlier, predigital era of mechanical calculators and slide rules.

His father, Johann, was a master printer, prosperous and apparently very tolerant of his children’s endeavors.

Luhn & Associates, an engineering consulting company that Luhn founded.

One device consisted of a metallic ribbon inserted into a typewriter, which punched magnetic patterns onto paper that could then be scanned by machine.

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