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July 18th, 2008:


It’s hard to imagine a world without tabs, they are absolutely everywhere.  They come in all sizes and forms: divider, suspension file tabs, index card tabs and in the realm of computing.  Think of Excel without tabs – ah wait a minute that was Lotus 1-2-3.  But not that long ago, just over one hundred years ago in fact, there were no tabs.

Image: Flickr User – Takashi [^]

Technology Review has an article on the history of the humble tab:

And whether our tabs are cardboard extensions or digital projections, they all date to an invention little more than a hundred years old. The original tab signaled an information storage revolution and helped enable everything from management consulting to electronic data processing. [^]

The index card, a product of the French Revolution, gave the world a “randomly accessible, infinitely modifiable arrangement of data”.  But it took the tab to make the index cards truly manageable!  Although the index cards was invented by the French it was an American, James Newton Gunn, who invented the tab almost one hundred years later in the 1890’s.  In 1897 Gunn was awarded a US patent for his invention, by which time he was working for the Library Bureau a company founded by Melvill Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System.

It would be easy to understate the importance of the tab and the small part that it has played in the information revolution.  Massive changes in society all come from small steps forward, the tab is one those steps – thank-you Mr Gunn.

Sources: [^], [^], and [^]