Charles Babbage

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Charles Babbage was a British polymath who invented very advanced computing devices which included the first programmable computing device. (His engines were all digital, but entirely mechanical.) In 1821, while looking at some mathematical tables with his friend, the astronomer John Herschel, which contained numerous errors, an exasperated Babbage exclaimed "I wish to God these calculations could be done by steam!" It was to become his life's work.

A prototype of the first, the Difference Engine (an idea originated by Johann Helfrich von Müller in 1786) was started in the 1820's, but never finished. (The Science Museum recently built an actual Difference Engine, using a better design he created in 1847-49, but never attempted to build; it worked reasonably well.) His later proposed Analytical Engine (prototyping began in the 1860's) was the first programmable computing device, and a general-purpose one, but its program was fixed.

Further reading

  • Charles Babbage, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher, London, 1864
  • H. W. Buxton, Memoir of the Life and Labours of the Late Charles Babbage Esq. F.R.S., MIT Press, Cambridge, Tomash, Los Angeles, 1988
  • Philip and Emily Morrison, Charles Babbage and his Calculating Engines, New York, 1961
  • Maboth Moseley, Irascible Genius: A Life of Charles Babbage, Inventor, Henry Regnery, Chicago, 1970
  • Anthony Hyman, Charles Babbage: Pioneer of the Computer, Princeton University, Princeton, 1982
  • Bruce Collier, James MacLachlan, Charles Babbage: And the Engines of Perfection, Oxford University, Oxford, 1998
  • Doron Swade, Charles Babbage and His Calculating Engines, Science Museum, London, 1991
  • Doron Swade, The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer, Viking, New York, 1991 - excellent history of the Science Museum's project to build an actual Difference Engine
  • Bruce Collier, The Little Engines that Could've: The Calculating Machines of Charles Babbage, Harvard University, Cambridge, 1970 - in addition to a good description of his machines, perhaps the best summary of his importance

External links