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Charles Babbage

designer of a calculating machine

Charles Babbage

Charles Babbage was born in London, England, on December 26, 1791. He was educated at a private school and at St. Peter's College, Cambridge. Between 1815 and 1817 he contributed three papers on the "Calculus of Functions" to the Philosophical Transactions, and in 1816 was made a fellow of the Royal Society.

Sometime around 1820, Babbage's attention was drawn to the number and importance of the errors introduced into astronomical and other calculations through inaccuracies in the computation of tables. He contributed to the Royal Society some notices on the relations between notation and mechanism; and, in an 1822 letter to Sir Humphrey Davy on the application of machinery to the calculation and printing of mathematical tables, he discussed the principles of a calculating machine, to the construction of which he devoted many years of his life. After obtaining financial assistance from the British government, Babbage spent time traveling Europe and examining different systems of machinery. Some of the results of his investigations were published in On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures (1832). Babbage was never able to complete his Difference Engine, however, due to conflicts with the engineer hired to build the machine.

From 1828 to 1839, Babbage was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge. He contributed to scientific periodicals, and was instrumental in founding the Astronomical (1820) and Statistical (1834) Societies. During the later years of his life he resided in London, devoting himself to the construction of mathematical machines. He died in London on October 18, 1871.

Other works by Babbage include: Tables of Logarithms (1826), Comparative View of the Various Institutions for the Assurance of Lives (1826), Decline of Science in England (1830), Ninth Bridgewater Treatise (1837), The Exposition of 1851 (1852), and Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864).

Charles Babbage Institute

Sir Humphrey Davy
Difference Engine

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This page was last updated on 10/18/2017.