Charles Babbage designer
of a calculating machine
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 www.cbi.umn.edu
Sir Humphrey Davy
Difference Engine
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