The real history is longer and richer. Full-text online search was prototyped in the early 1960s—partly through Charlie’s work – and commercialized by decade’s end. But pre-computer machine-aided search goes all the way back to punched card sorters. These were conceived in the 1830s and built in the 1890s, during a period of huge advances in card catalogs and other manual retrieval techniques. Real-time, interactive search was pioneered in the 1920s with Emmanuel Goldberg’s microfilm “search engine,” built into a desk.
By the late 1950s, manufacturers were selling a Rube Goldbergian mix of different storage and retrieval technologies to governments, corporations and the military: Rapid Selectors capable of searching 330 pages per second on microfilm, magnetic media or microfilm integrated into punched cards, and various futuristic looking viewers. Some were already computer controlled, and major conferences were starting up around how computers would soon revolutionize the entire field.