Conceptual innovator Jack Cole, who died last month, made his crucial breakthrough in 1947, at age 27.
Today’s obituary in the New York Times describes his youthful achievement, which led to the creation of a series of reverse directories for major U.S. cities:
“The first city directories in the United States were published in the 1780s. Though most were arranged alphabetically by last name, a few early ones were organized by street address. For the next century and a half, compilers of these directories trudged door to door, painstakingly recording the residents of every apartment in every building on every block in the city.
“What Mr. Cole did, starting in 1947, was to use I.B.M. punch cards to streamline the process, turning an ordinary telephone book into what today would be called a searchable database.”