Charles Babbage was born at Walworth, Surrey England in December 26,1791. He achieved many great feats and belonged to many very distinguished groups before he died in October 18, 1871. Many people consider him to be the grandfather of computer science due to his great works with his Difference Engine (1821), which printed tables of polynomials, and his Analytical Engine (1856), which was intended as a general symbol manipulator. These inventions were far more complex than the work of any of his fellow inventors. Although there is no evidence that the computers of today are direct descendants of his work. He grew up with a passion for how mechanical objects worked. He also was an excellent mathematician. This was discovered at an early age when he employed a tutor only to find out he knew more about math than the tutor did. He was home schooled for a good many years before entering Cambridge University in 1810 an institution where he would later hold the position of Lucasian chair of mathematics from 1828 to 1839. His home schooling was in direct result of poor health in his youth. He was involved in many different fields of science. He was the first person to be presented the Gold Medal award given by the Astronomical Society. He was also a key figure in the founding of the Astronomical Society in 1820, the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1831 and the Statistical Society of London in 1834. He is also the author of the very influential book On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures. He also wrote a series of papers on many different topics such as optics and cryptology. Babbage excelled in many categories but being a politician wasn’t one of them. As a result he would not be able to persuade the government in England to give him a grant on working on the analytical engine. In Babbages early years he was quite social an pleasant to have around. In fact he was notorious for excellent dinner parties where many famous and prominent people would be in attendance. Although over the years and believed by some as a result from the death of his daughter Shelley, who drowned near La Spezia in July of 1822 and 5 years later the death of his 35-year-old wife Georgiana in August 1827 he became a very bitter old man. It is also believed that the bitterness is in result of not receiving grants and the misinterpretation that not receiving funds for the continuation of his advancements in science were in a way a means to controlling or impeding the advancement of science.
Babbage had many dreams. One was a dream about a machine that would perform calculations. He called it the Differential Engine. This is a dream he would never see accomplished but would burn in him with such passion that it would keep him devoted to achieving it for the rest of his life. He had many detailed drawings and even achieved the feat of a small prototype. As a result of a man who was very scrutinizing and quite easily a perfectionist, he would always find a better way to achieve a process and therefore never finish what he started. He hired an engineer and machinist by the name of Joseph Clement to construct the engine and to oversee the fabrication of special tools. Unfortunately, little remains of Babbage’s prototype computing machines. One reason is that critical tolerances required by Babbage’s machines exceeded the level of technology available at the time. Also, though formal recognition of his work was tendered by respected institutions such as the Astronomical Society of London, the British government suspended funding for his Difference Engine in 1832, and after an agonizing waiting period, finally killed the project in 1842. This was only a small cause to the death of the Difference engine. In 1830 Babbage wanted to move the engine’s workshop to his house on Dorset Street. A fireproof work shop was constructed (again as a result of some paranoia and wanting perfection). Clement refused to move from his own workshop because of his ego and the familiar surroundings. It has been quoted that Clement made, in Babbage’s eyes “inordinately extravagant demands”. Babbage would then stop giving Clement money, so Clement dismissed his crew, and stopped work on the Difference Engine keeping all the blueprints and special tools constructed for the project. This would leave bad blood between Clement and Babbage through out the remainder of there lives. Although eventually Clement did return the blue prints. Thus, there remain only fragments of Babbage’s prototype Difference Engine. He later gave up this idea and started work on his Analytical Engine. This project he devoted most of his time and large fortune towards after 1856, although he never succeeded in completing any of his several designs for it. George Scheutz, a Swedish printer, successfully constructed a machine based on the designs for Babbage’s Difference Engine in 1854. This machine printed mathematical, astronomical and actuarial tables with unprecedented accuracy, and was used by the British and American governments. Although his works were continued by his son, Henry Prevost Babbage, after Babbage’s death in 1871, the Analytical Engine was never successfully completed, and ran only a few programs with a great deal of errors.
Charles Babbage was among the most talented and intelligent men in the history of mankind. He ranks up there with Newton, Galileo and Von Neumann. He has proven himself in many aspects of society ranging from economics to sciences. He has definitely left his mark on our way of life and has every right to be deemed a “genius.” It is because of his visions, maybe not directly related to our advancements in technology today but through his underlying methods and ingenuity that we have such an advanced society. It is with tremendous respect and admiration that I wrote this paper on the “Grandfather of Computer Science.”
1. C. Babbage, “Passages from the Life of a Philosopher”, London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green, 1864.
3. R.W. Sebesta, “Concepts of Programming Languages”, Fourth Edition, Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 1998.
5. J.A.N. Lee, http://www.histech.rwthaachen.de/www/quellen/Histcomp/
Babbage.html, Charles Babbage, September 1994.
6. JOC/EFR, http://turnbull.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Babbage.html, Charles Babbage, December 1996.
7. Pictures: http://www.comlab.ox.ac.uk/oucl/users/jonathan.bowen/babbage.html