Charles Babbage Born This Day In 1791
Written by Historian   
Sunday, 26 December 2021

Today we celebrate the birth of Charles Babbage, the man who invented calculating machines that, although they were never realized in his lifetime, are rightly seen as the forerunners of modern programmable computers.

Babbage40

 Charles Babbage 
(December 26, 1791- October 18, 1871)

 

Charles Babbage was born in Surrey on Boxing Day 1791. He was  the son of a banker, which may have been the source of his fascination with numbers, but whatever the reason he occupied the Lucasian chair of mathematics at Cambridge from 1828 to 1839. To characterize Babbage as a mathematician is misleading because his interests were much more wide ranging - a polymath is closer.

What is remarkable for programmers is the 200 years ago Charles Babbage came up with many of the ideas that are fundamental to computer science. Babbage conceived the idea of his Difference Engine in order to compute the values of polynomial functions without the need for multiplication and division. 

Parts of a prototype were constructed and Babbage secured government grants equivalent to £60 million in today's terms to complete the build but the money came too late. Babbage had already moved on, having conceived an idea for an even more elaborate machine. The Analytical Engine that went even further than mechanized arithmetic and would permit general purpose computation. This machine was programmable and with the help of Ada Lovelace programs were written for it, but after a disastrous meeting between Babbage and the Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, no more money was forthcoming from the government.

The story of Babbage's life, his Difference Engine and Analytical Engine can be found in our history article, Charles Babbage - The First Computer Visionary.

Here at I Programmer we consider Babbage so important an influence of computer science that our collection of articles on topics from assembler, through operating systems to Virtual Memory are gathered in a section of this site called Babbage's Bag. You'll find are plenty of ideas fundamental to computing to explore, including - binary arithmetic, computability, hardware and software.

Related articles:

Charles Babbage - The First Computer Visionary

What if Babbage..   the story of what might have happened if Babbage had managed to complete his great work.

Plans to build Babbage's Analytical Engine

Plan 28 - Can Babbage's Analytical Engine Be Built?

Plan 28 Makes Progress In Understanding Babbage's Mechanical Notation

The Conditional - Did Babbage Get It?

Babbage Archive Digitized

Babbage Difference Engine In Gigapixels

Ada Lovelace, The First Programmer

When Lovelace Met Babbage

Ada's Algorithm - book review 

 

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