Charles Babbage (1791-1871)iswidelyregarded as the first computer pioneer and a figure given the greatest respect in the history of computing. His conception of the Analytical Engine in 1834 is considered his greatest achievement and a startling intellectual feat of the nineteenth century. The design of the Analytical Engine has features of modern computers. It was, however, only in the 1930s and 40s that the work of Babbage became known and was put into use.

Early Life


Charles Babbage was born on December 26, 1791 in Walworth, Surrey. He was one of the four children born to banker Benjamin Babbage and Elizabeth Teape. He attended a number of schools though he often remained ill. Then after a bout of fever, he was mainly home tutored. After completing his studies, he attended Trinity College, Cambridge in 1810. It was here that his fascination with mathematics grew. Later, he graduated from Peterhouse in 1814 and received an MA in 1817. Till 1828, he stayed at Devonshire Street in London before his move to 1 Dorset Street, Manchester Square, London. Charles Babbage stayed here till his death. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1816 and was even hired by the Royal Institute to present a lecture on Calculus. He even occupied the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge University from 1828 to 1839.
Between 1813 and 1868, Babbage published six books along with ninety papers. His talents and interests were wide ranging though Babbage is mostly known for his pioneering work on automatic calculating engines. His engines were of two kinds: Difference Engines and Analytical Engines. The engines designed by Babbage were monumental in their concept, size and complexity.

Marriage and Family

On July 25, 1814, Babbage married Georgiana Whitmore at St. Michael's Church in Teignmouth, Devon. Charles and Georgiana had eight children, but only four-Benjamin Herschel, Georgiana Whitmore, Dugald Bromhead and Henry Prevost-survived childhood. Charles' wife Georgiana died in Worcester on September 1, 1827, the same year as his father, their second son and their newborn son Alexander. His youngest son, Henry Prevost Babbage created six working Difference Engines based on his father's designs, one of these engines were sent to the Harvard University.

His Fascination with Printed Tables

Babbage was fascinated by printed tables and he had a collection of about 300 volumes of printed tables in his possession. He could easily find the errors in these tables and these errors led him to design a device that could eliminate the errors present in the mathematical tables.
During the 17th and 18th centuries several attempts had been made to build devices that would aid in mathematical calculations. Devices built by early pioneers including Schickard, Pascal and Leibniz could not be used in daily routine and were thus generally ignored. All this while, mathematical tables were used to perform calculations which were laborious and not always accurate These tables, moreover, were prone to three basic kinds of errors. These errors included errors of calculation (all calculations at that time were done by human beings), errors of transcription (these errors occurred when the results were copied to give them to the printer) and thirdly there were errors of typesetting and printing.

Designing the Difference Engine No.1

His machines were the first mechanical engines. In 1821, Babbage began developing a device that could not only calculate automatically without creating errors but also print the results without any error. Babbage called this device a Difference Engine because the device used the mathematical principle of finite differences to calculate. The advantage of using this method was that it eliminated the use of multiplication and division while calculating polynomials. The Difference Engine only used addition to calculate.


Babbage, however, did not build his machine. It was because the Victorian mechanical engineering was not sufficiently developed to produce the numerous parts of the machine on a vast scale.
The design of Difference Engine No. 1 if completed required an estimated 25,000 parts which amounted to about 15 tonnes. A complete engine would have stood eight feet in height, seven foot long and three foot in depth. Babbage did however hire Joseph Clement, a skilled toolmaker and draughtsman, to build the Engine. He managed to make one complete portion of the engine in 1832 which is now a celebrated icon of the history of computing. It is the oldest surviving automatic calculator of the time. Baggage was provided a government funding of £17,500 but even when nothing substantial was built, the funding stopped. Thus, in 1833, the work on the engine came to a halt.

The Analytical Engine

Then, in 1834 though the Difference Engine remained incomplete Babbage had thought of a new device called the Analytical Engine. This machine, more technically advanced, worked on the same principle on which the modern computers work. Like his Difference Engines, Babbage never. got to completely build the Analytical Engine and only a few partially complete assemblies were built. By 1840, the Analytical Engine remained largely incomplete.
The designs for the Analytical Engine include features of a modern computer. It performed mathematical calculations using punching cards that contained instructions to perform calculations.
It has a 'store' where numbers and their results were stored and a separate section (mill) where arithmetic processing took place. The separate 'store' (memory) and 'mill' (central processor) are essential features of modern electronic computers. The Analytical Engine could repeat the same sequence of operations a number of times and was even capable of automatically performing different operations depending on the result of a calculation. 
The Analytical Engine was not only automatic, it could be used for general purpose as well. It means that the device could be 'programmed' by the user to execute repertoire instructions in any required order. The engine could find the value of almost any algebraic function. Charles Babbage continued to improve the Analytical Engine until his death.

Building Difference Engine No.2

Again in 1847, Babbage started building Difference Engine No. 2. This machine was simple compared to the Analytical Engine. The design of Difference Engine No.2 required less parts then Difference Engine No.1 for doing the same amount of Computing power. Babbage made no attempt to construct Difference Engine No.2 like he did with Ditference Engine No.1.
His Difference Engines, however, were automatic and they did not require being operated. They were also the first designs to use mathematical rules in a device though they were not general purpose machines. Moreover, the numbers added to the device could be done only in a particular sequence.
It was only in 1985 that due to a project at the Science Museum, the complete Babbage Engine was built to see if the model was practical at all. The Engine chosen was Babbage's Difference Engine No.2. The calculating section of the Engine, which weighed 2.6 tonnes with 4,000 separate parts, was completed and became fully functional in November 1991, a month before the 200th birth anniversary of Charles Babbage.
The calculating section of Difference Engine No.2, when it was made, had 4,000 moving parts (excluding the printing mechanism) and weighed about 2.6 tonnes. It was seven feet high, eleven feet long and eighteen inches in depth. It also became the first full sized Babbage calculating engine to be completed.


Praise for his Analytical Engine

In 1842, an Italian mathematician, Louis Menebrea, published a memoir in French on the Analytical Engine. Babbage was delighted with the interest shown in his project and appointed Ada Lovelace to act as a translator for the article.
Ada added a series of in depth notes showing the amount of understanding she had of Babbage's work. Babbage, however, never made an attempt to build the Analytical Engine. He instead continued to work on simpler and cheaper methods of manufacturing the parts of the device. After his death, his work was generally lost as no one tried to do work on it.

Later Life and Death

Baggage apart from designing various parts for his engines, took interest in code breaking and also in the field of philosophy. He even campaigned to bring about reforms in British science. During his life he continued to work in different intellectual fields and was well-known despite his Difference and Analytical Engines. He, however, remained known for his Difference and Analytical Engines and is called 'the father of computing'. 
Charles Babbage died in his London home on October 18, 1871.

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