McBee Keysort

We have a large collection of materials called the Hawaii War Records Depository that was donated during World War II by individuals, organizations, and corporations in an effort to document the war experience in Hawaii. It’s been stored in filing cabinets since it came here and have been damaged with the opening and closing the of the drawers. I figured it was time to get them out of the cabinets and into archival boxes. So, in doing this, I found a fun artifact that I learned more about today.



This is a McBee keysort. The papers inside the box have holes all along the sides, each hole representing a specific piece of information. In this case, the papers have employee’s names and addresses on it. The key assigns places to the numbers so that you can quickly filter out everyone who lives in Honolulu (or wherever you are interested in). How do you sort? Here’s a photo:


You put a metal rod through the hole you want and when you pull it up, only the ones you want come out on the rod. Brilliant! So if you are looking for those employees who live in Honolulu, you insert into the right numbered hole and pull out all your employees whose cards are not punched out. Of course, it makes me appreciate computers and databases more.


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