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Mathematical Treasure: RCA Flowcharting Template

Amy Shell-Gellasch (Eastern Michigan University)

When I took my first programing classes in high school and then college, I had to create by hand flowcharts of the logic. Certain shapes denote certain actions. For example, a horizontal diamond represents a decision point, while a horizontal rectangle represents a process. Flowcharts could get pretty complicated for even a program of moderate length. Today flowcharts, for programing or organizational needs, can be made using any one of numerous computer applications. (One must ask if the programmers who designed these virtual flowchart creators used a flowchart in their design process, and if so, paper or virtual? Interesting origin questions.) Professional programmers back in the day used clear plastic templates to help create flowcharts that looked professional. Developed in the 1950s during the early days of programing in industry, these templates are the “big boy” versions of the shape or animal drawing templates with which many kids play. They were often made and distributed by computer manufacturers to encourage interest in and sales of their machines.

Flowcharting template and holder, made ca 1960 for RCA.

RCA Electronic Processing Flowcharting Template, ca 1960,
Smithsonian Institution negative number AHB2012q05382.

Along with the outlines of all the commonly-used shapes needed to create a flowchart, this template contains two scales. Across the top is a scale for printer spacing running from 0 to 90, while down the left side is a scale for card volumes from 0 to 450, which allows one to estimate the number of punch cards in a stack and thus approximate the run time.

The complete collection of 24 Flowcharting Templates from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History can be viewed at

Index of Mathematical Treasures

Index of Mathematical Objects

Amy Shell-Gellasch (Eastern Michigan University), "Mathematical Treasure: RCA Flowcharting Template," Convergence (November 2020)

Mathematical Treasures: Smithsonian National Museum of American History Object Groups