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"[Science fiction] is the only kind of writing that allows you to look at the world we live in and change one piece at a time."
- Frederik Pohl

Auto-Clerk  
  An automated accounting system.  

Some place down in the innards of the auto-clerk who handled the sale for the Gadget Shoppe four holes were punched in a continuous role of paper; the item appeared in the cost accounting of the owner, and was reflected the accounting of the endless chain of middle distributors, transporters, processers, original producers, service companies, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs - world without end.
From Beyond This Horizon, by Robert Heinlein.
Published by Street Publications in 1942
Additional resources -

What Heinlein appears to imagine here is an automated system using paper tape that uses holes to indicate information about a sale, and that the facts about the sale would be echoed throughout a supply chain.

The first loom controlled with punched holes in paper tape was created in 1725 by Basile Bouchon. The first to propose punched cards for use in informatics was Semyon Korsakov in 1832. Herman Hollerith invented machine-readable data recording in time for the 1890 census, using his punched cards - Hollerith cards.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Beyond This Horizon
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Heinlein
  Tech news articles related to Beyond This Horizon
  Tech news articles related to works by Robert Heinlein

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