Do you ever wonder who you should thank for the laptops and desktops that make your life easier every day? It’s Charles Babbage, English mathematician and inventor and not just the companies that are manufacturing and updating the computer. Let’s see who Charles Babbage is and why you need to remember him on his birthday, which is on December 26.
Who is Charles Babbage?
Charles Babbage known as the father of computers was a polymath who went to become a mathematician, inventor, mechanical engineer and philosopher. Through his life he has contributed to many different scientific fields but he is most well known for designing a programmable computing device.
Contributions by Charles Babbage
Charles Babbage is the one that designed the first ever mechanical computer and his design often served as the blueprint for building the more complex computers and laptop that we use today.
But that is not the only contribution to the society, in 1991, using Babbage’s original drawings, the Science Museum, London built a functioning Difference Engine No. 2 that was made of 8,000 parts and weighed over five tons. They also completed the printer Babbage had designed for the different engine, in 2000.
In 1832 Babbage published ‘On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures’ which was focused on industrial production and he also described the ‘Babbage Principle’ that spoke about the benefits of division of labor in factories. He has also written a book on natural theology in 1837 and invented an ophthalmoscope that is used in eye examinations.
In 1838, he also invented the pilot which is also called a cow-catcher. This is a metal frame that is attached to the front of locomotives which clears the tracks of obstacles.
Charles Babbage Family and Death
Charles Babbage was born on December 26, 1791 at 44 Crosby Row at Walworth Road in London England. (Though there is some dispute regarding his palace of birth, the location is as stated in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.) The was one of the four children born to Betsy Plumleigh Teape and Benjamin Babbage. His father was a banker and founded the Praed and Co. of Fleet Street London in 1801 with William Praed.
Babbage married Georgiana Whitmore in 1814 and had eight children together, but only three lived beyond childhood. His wife passed away in 1827.
Babbage passed away at the age of 79 due to renal inadequacy on October 18, 1871. He is buried in the Kensal Green Cemetery in London.
Charles Babbage’s early life
At 8 years of age, Charles Babbage was sent to the countryside near Exeter for schooling to help him recover from a fever that had nearly taken his life. He later attended the King Edward VI Grammar School in Totnes, South Devon. But due to his poor health he had to return home and he had to continue his education with the help of private tutors.
But his love for mathematics blossomed when he started attending the small Holmwood academy in Enfield, Middlesex. By the age of 16-17 he went back to Totnes for studying and he also had a tutor from Oxford who taught him Classics so that he could enter Cambridge.
Babbage was in Trinity College in Cambridge until 1812 when he moved to Peterhouse College, Cambridge where he was the top mathematician. He completed his studies and graduated in 1814 and later went on to form the Analytical society with John Herschel and George Peacock. The Analytical Society’s objective was to introduce the latest developments from the European continent into English mathematics.
He also became a member of other clubs like the Ghost Club which investigated supernatural happenings and the Extractor Club where the members professed to liberate one another from the madhouse if one was ever committed.
Charles Babbage later became a lecturer at the Royal Institution where he taught astronomy and it was in 1816, when he was declared a Fellow of the Royal Society. He also helped found the Astronomical Society in 1820.
Engine for mathematical and astronomical tables
In 1824 Babbage won a gold medal for inventing an engine that could calculate mathematical and astronomical tables. For those of us whose history is weak, during this era mathematical tables were very important as they were used for navigation, engineering and science. Until his invention people could calculate by hand and then compile the data into tables. This led to multiple errors in the calculator or sometimes when entering the data into tables. This was why he designed this device to save time and money.
He began working on this model in 1819 and completed it in 1822. The machine called a difference engine would calculate and print mathematical tables powered by cranking a handle.
The British government saw the benefits of the project and was interested in the machine and gave Babbage £1,700 to develop a full scale machine. This machine was designed to calculate and tabulate polynomial functions and over the years it received an investment of £17,000. But as the parts were costly only a small working portion was built and by 1833 the full scale difference engine was stopped.
Babbage in 1837 decided to build a more ambitious analytical engine that would be the first functioning computer for general-purpose computation. It was programmable by using punch cards, an idea which was borrowed from Jacquard Loom which was used for weaving complex patterns in textiles. But again the project was left incomplete.
The government pulled the funding in 1842. It was between 1846 and 1849 when Babbage finally designed a new improved engine which was called Difference Engine No. 2.
His machines were the very first mechanical computers to be invented. But they were not actually built due to funding issues and not due to design flaws.