The man who invented the computer, Charles Babbage was an English polymath, philosopher, inventor, and mechanical engineer. He is also the inventor of the Mechanical Computer. Often called the ‘Father of the Computer’, Babbage’s work was a stepping to stone that led to major break throughs in creation of more advanced electronic versions of the computer.
Charles Babbage lived from 26th December 1791 to 18th October, 1871. He was born at 44 Crosby Row, Walworth Road, London, England. His parents, Benjamin Babbage and Betsy Plumleigh Teape had 4 children. His father worked as a partner to William Praed, founding Praed’s & Co. Later, his family moved to East Teignmouth, to the old Rowdens house. At the age of eight, Charles Babbage suffered from a life-threatening illness. He was sent to a country school, Alphington, near Exeter to recover. He attended the King Edward VI Grammar School in Totnes, South Devon, but he then resorted to Private tutoring due to his health.
Babbage joined the Holmwood academy in Baker Street, Enfield, Middlesex. It was run by Reverend Stephen Freeman and had a class strength of only 30, helping him receive lot of personal attention. The library of the institute induced an affinity for mathematics in Charles Babbage. After attending classes at the academy, he also received private tutoring from two more teachers. The second of which was a tutor at Oxford under whose guidance, Babbage received admission to the Trinity College, University of Cambridge.
Education at Cambridge
He taught himself contemporary mathematics at a young age, and so, he was disappointed in the standard teaching methods offered. With his fellow friends and colleagues John Herschel, George Peacock, and more, he formed the Analytical Society.
He transferred to Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he received a degree without examination. He was one of the best mathematicians but did not graduate with honors. He also defended a sacrilegious thesis in the preliminary public disputation. This created a reputation for him, also bringing him into the limelight.
Apart from being the Father of the computer, Charles Babbage also did the following:
- Babbage carried out research work to prove the superiority of the broad gauge in railways.
- He invented the pilot or cowcatcher, the metal structure in front of trains, to clear small blockages in on the track.
- He constructed a dynamometer car.
- Invented the Ophthalmoscope.
Charles Babbage’s work in cryptography was unknown till a century after his death. He broke the autokey cipher by Vigenère during the Crimean War in the 1850s. This discovery was kept secret by the military. Credit for deciphering it was instead given to Friedrich Kasiski.
The Babbage principle talks about careful classification of labour to maximize output. He believed a lot of skilled workers perform tasks below their abilities. The Labour costs may be cut and efficiency may increase if the workers are giving tasks of their skill level.
Charles Babbage designed one of the first mechanical computers. His machine was not completed due to funding issues. The journey of the Father of computing consisted of 2 essential parts, The Difference Engine and The Analytical Engine.
Charles Babbage began working on the difference engine in 1822. It was designed to calculate the values of polynomial functions by using the method of finite differences. He corresponded with the mathematician Ada Lovelace.
He worked with Joseph Clement to implement the design. However, soon, the two fell out over cost. It remained unfinished. He then designed the “Difference Engine No. 2”, this was not funded at all. It was finally constructed in 1991, where it performed its first calculation.
The remains of the first prototype lie in the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford.
Following the failure of the difference engine, Babbage began working on a more complex design which he called the “Analytical Engine”. It signified the transition from mechanised arithmetic to complete mathematical computation. It was never fully complete as he made changes and improvements time and again. He worked on it until his death.
Death of Charles Babbage
Charles Babbage died a 79 year old man, on 18th October, 1871 at 1 Dorset Street, Marylebone. He rejected knighthood and baronetcy.
The Charles Babbage will always be remembered; some of his memorials are:
- Babbage Crater on the moon.
- Computing award, Charles Babbage Premium.
- British train named after him
- Charles Babbage Institue of Technology at the University of Minnesota.
- University of Plymouth computing building called the Babbage building,
- The Economists’ science and technology blog called ‘Babbage’
- The Babbage Programming Language.
Charles Babbage Quotes
Here are some of Charles Babbage’s most famous quotes:
- At each increase of knowledge, as well as on the contrivance of every new tool, human labour becomes abridged.
- The public character of every public servant is legitimate subject of discussion, and his fitness or unfitness for office may be fairly canvassed by any person.
- It is therefore not unreasonable to suppose that some portion of the neglect of science in England, may be attributed to the system of education we pursue.
- A tool is usually more simple than a machine; it is generally used with the hand, whilst a machine is frequently moved by animal or steam power.
- Another mode of accumulating power arises from lifting a weight and then allowing it to fall.
- Perhaps it would be better for science, that all criticism should be avowed.