Charles Babbage

About Charles Babbage

Charles Babbage was born in London on Boxing Day of 1791. He has been coined the "father of the computer" due to his work on what are considered to be the first mechanically operated computers. Many of the aspects of his design are used today in modern day computing. He studied at Trinity College Cambridge but was already self taught in many areas of mathematics and found himself being left disappointed with the standard of teaching available at Cambridge. After graduating from Cambridge he was hired by the Royal Institution to lecture on calculus. After just two years he was elected by his peers to be member of the Royal Society, an institution of fellows who promote excellence in scientific fields of study. His appointment lead him to set up the Astronomical Society in 1820 and which was the first to challenge the dominance oft he Royal Society.


Charles Babbage pictured in 1860

During the 1820s Babbage worked on what he called the 'Difference Engine', an automatic mechanical calculator that could calculate polynomial functions. The British Government gave Babbage £1700 to being the project. The design of the machine was technically sound however no man had ever built a mechanical device to such precision before which lead to the project being far more expensive than was originally anticipated. The government ceased funding in 1842 by which time they had already granted Babbage over £17000 with no working model in existence.

During the latter years of him working on the Difference Engine, Babbage had become more and more interested on a new type of mechanical computer, the Analytical Engine. This could handle the arithmetic and functions that the Difference Engine was capable of and also introduce fundamental computational methods such as logic, control flow and loops, as well as having integrated memory. Babbage never completed construction of any of his machines due to inadequate funding and conflicts between himself and his chief engineer.

Babbage died on the 18th of October 1871 in his home of 40 years in Marylebone, London at the age of 79. Half of Babbage's brain is preserved in the Royal College of Surgeons in London with the other half on display in the Science Museum, London. There is a charity called Plan 28 who aim to build the analytic machine for real over the course of the next few years to help demonstrate to people how the modern day computer actually works at the lowest level.

All images used are from the Wikimedia Commons Library, CC License