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Charles Babbage

Although he was a 19th-century mathematician, Charles Babbage is credited with inventing the modern computer. He also designed a type of speedometer and the cowcatcher.

Charles Babbage was born on Dec. 26, 1792, in Teignmouth, Devon, England. At age 19 he helped found the Analytical Society, whose purpose was to introduce developments from Europe into English mathematics. At about the same time Babbage first got his idea for mechanically calculating mathematical tables. Later he made a small calculator that could perform certain mathematical computations to eight decimal places.

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  • The General Plan of Mr Babbage's Great Calcu... rinted by Lemercier Bernard & Co
  • Portrait of Charles Babbage (1792-1871) 1832
  • Calculating Machine Known as 'The Difference... ed by Charles Tomlinson, c.1880s
  • Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-52), 1852

Father of Computing

  • The birth of computing: The forgotten father figure: 1884
    In contrast to Babbage, who wanted to automate the fiddly business of mathematical calculation, Hollerith was interested in the less esoteric (but equally tedious) field of data processing. Babbage intended his elaborate... more
  • Babbage, Charles (1792-1871)
    English mathematician who devised a precursor of the computer. He designed an analytical engine, a general-purpose mechanical computing device for performing different calculations according to a program input on punched cards (an... more
  • The Great Unsung Victorian Machine-Maker
    The reputation of Charles Babbage probably stands higher now than it has ever done. For a few hopeful years in the 1830s his showman demonstrations of a `Difference Engine' were one of the attractions of the London season, but by the time he... more
  • A Tale of Two Engines Revived
    In 1991, Doron Swade, assistant director and head of the collections at the Science Museum in London, led a team that built a complete version of DE2 (Difference Engine 2) in time for the 200th anniversary of Babbage's birth. Their efforts... more

Inventions & Influence

  • The amazing adding subtracting composing creating do-everything machine
    ADA LOVELACE WAS A SCIENTIST AND A COUNTESS. Her passion for mathematics was unfettered by the popular view that women had frail brains that could be injured by serious work in mathematics. Her interests ranged from machinery to anatomy,... more
  • Babbage's Ophthalmoscope
    Occasionally museums have missing exhibits; one such is the ophthalmoscope invented by the brilliant Victorian mathematician Charles Babbage (1792-1871), often called the father of computing. more
  • CHAPTER 5: Inventing the Analytical Engine
    Around 1834, Charles Babbage began to design a machine that would overcome a major limitation of his Difference Engine. That machine could calculate a table of numbers for only a single manually entered difference. If the difference... more
  • CHAPTER 3: Inventing the Difference Engine
    When Charles Babbage and John Herschel visited Paris in 1819, they inspected a great mathematical work. In the 1790s, Baron Gaspard de Prony had supervised the production of 17 volumes of tables of logarithms and of the trigonometric... more
  • One of the Great Inventions That Never Was - Until Now?
    It may seem an anachronism in the era of the ever-shrinking digital gadget, but Charles Babbage's locomotive-size Analytical Engine remains one of the greatest inventions that never was. Babbage's brainchild, first conceived in 1837,... more
  • Revisited Invention Planned as Tribute to 'Father' of Computing
    A UNIQUE project to build a lorry-sized computer designed nearly two centuries ago is gaining steam. Literally, that is. If all goes well, John Graham-Cumming will build a steam-powered analytical engine thought up by pioneer Charles... more

Learn More...

  • Ada Lovelace, Byron's Daughter
  • Charles Babbage's Brain Launches Science Exhibition, London
  • Byron's Daughter and Her Numbers
    It is the evening of June 17, 1833 in Dorset Street, Marylebone, and a pretty 17-year-old has been brought to see Charles Babbage's Difference Engine, a "product of mechanical repetition, iterations of the same identical assemblies of... more
  • The Charles Babbage Pages