CHARLES BABBAGE

Inventor of the first stored memory programmable computer
b. Dec. 26 1791, d. Oct. 18 1871

Inducted:

  • Inaugural class

Notable achievements:

  • Designed the Difference and Analytical Engines, the earliest direct progenitors of modern computers

Biography:

Charles Babbage was born Dec. 26, 1791, in London, England, the son of a successful banker. He attended Trinity College at Cambridge, where he and some fellow students formed The Analytical Society in 1812 to independently study advanced mathematics.

In 1814, he married Georgiana Whitmore, with whom he would have eight children.

As early as 1812, he was working on a way to create mathematical tables mechanically, to reduce the high rate of human error then common. In 1822, he presented a paper to the Royal Astronomical Society outlining the basics of a "difference engine." This was based at least in part on earlier designs by German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Babbage was given a £1,500 grant by the British government to construct the machine, and work began upon it. However, the manufacturing technology of the time and a dispute with the head of the construction team resulted in the engine not being completed.

By 1833, Babbage was working on designs for an improved design he called the Analytical Engine. These designs differed from the earlier Difference Engine in that he borrowed the use of punch cards from Jacquard looms (where they were used to store patterns) to store data, one of the first workable approaches to programming a calculating machine. None were successfully built in his lifetime, again due to difficulties with machining parts to fine enough specifications. However, Lady Ada Lovelace, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, in looking over Babbage's designs for an Analytical Engine, realized that the engine could be successfully programmed - and wrote software to generate Bernoulli numbers on his machine.

Babbage died of likely renal failure on Oct. 18 1871, without having seen any of his engines successfully completed. However, in 1991, the London Science Museum, working from Babbage's original designs, completed a working model of his Difference Engine No. 2.

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