74 Facts About Babbage


Babbage is considered by some to be "father of the computer".

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Babbage is credited with inventing the first mechanical computer, the Difference Engine, that eventually led to more complex electronic designs, though all the essential ideas of modern computers are to be found in Babbage's Analytical Engine, programmed using a principle openly borrowed from the Jacquard loom.

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Babbage had a broad range of interests in addition to his work on computers covered in his book Economy of Manufactures and Machinery.

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Babbage, who died before the complete successful engineering of many of his designs, including his Difference Engine and Analytical Engine, remained a prominent figure in the ideating of computing.

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Babbage's birthplace is disputed, but according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography he was most likely born at 44 Crosby Row, Walworth Road, London, England.

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Babbage was one of four children of Benjamin Babbage and Betsy Plumleigh Teape.

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In 1808, the Babbage family moved into the old Rowdens house in East Teignmouth.

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Around the age of eight, Babbage was sent to a country school in Alphington near Exeter to recover from a life-threatening fever.

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Babbage then joined the 30-student Holmwood Academy, in Baker Street, Enfield, Middlesex, under the Reverend Stephen Freeman.

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Babbage studied with two more private tutors after leaving the academy.

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The first was a clergyman near Cambridge; through him Babbage encountered Charles Simeon and his evangelical followers, but the tuition was not what he needed.

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Babbage was brought home, to study at the Totnes school: this was at age 16 or 17.

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The second was an Oxford tutor, under whom Babbage reached a level in Classics sufficient to be accepted by the University of Cambridge.

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Babbage was already self-taught in some parts of contemporary mathematics; he had read Robert Woodhouse, Joseph Louis Lagrange, and Marie Agnesi.

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Babbage was the top mathematician there, but did not graduate with honours.

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Babbage had defended a thesis that was considered blasphemous in the preliminary public disputation, but it is not known whether this fact is related to his not sitting the examination.

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Babbage lectured to the Royal Institution on astronomy in 1815, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1816.

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That year Babbage applied to be professor at the University of Edinburgh, with the recommendation of Pierre Simon Laplace; the post went to William Wallace.

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Babbage purchased the actuarial tables of George Barrett, who died in 1821 leaving unpublished work, and surveyed the field in 1826 in Comparative View of the Various Institutions for the Assurance of Lives.

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Babbage did calculate actuarial tables for that scheme, using Equitable Society mortality data from 1762 onwards.

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Babbage made a home in Marylebone in London and established a large family.

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Babbage was instrumental in founding the Royal Astronomical Society in 1820, initially known as the Astronomical Society of London.

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Babbage studied the requirements to establish a modern postal system, with his friend Thomas Frederick Colby, concluding there should be a uniform rate that was put into effect with the introduction of the Uniform Fourpenny Post supplanted by the Uniform Penny Post in 1839 and 1840.

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From 1828 to 1839, Babbage was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge.

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Babbage was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1832.

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Babbage was out of sympathy with colleagues: George Biddell Airy, his predecessor as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge, thought an issue should be made of his lack of interest in lecturing.

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Babbage's reforming direction looked to see university education more inclusive, universities doing more for research, a broader syllabus and more interest in applications; but William Whewell found the programme unacceptable.

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Babbage twice stood for Parliament as a candidate for the borough of Finsbury.

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Babbage was its public face, backed by Richard Jones and Robert Malthus.

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Babbage published On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, on the organisation of industrial production.

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John Rennie the Younger in addressing the Institution of Civil Engineers on manufacturing in 1846 mentioned mostly surveys in encyclopaedias, and Babbage's book was first an article in the Encyclopædia Metropolitana, the form in which Rennie noted it, in the company of related works by John Farey Jr.

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From An essay on the general principles which regulate the application of machinery to manufactures and the mechanical arts, which became the Encyclopædia Metropolitana article of 1829, Babbage developed the schematic classification of machines that, combined with discussion of factories, made up the first part of the book.

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Babbage represented his work as largely a result of actual observations in factories, British and abroad.

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Babbage pointed out that training or apprenticeship can be taken as fixed costs; but that returns to scale are available by his approach of standardisation of tasks, therefore again favouring the factory system.

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Babbage took the unpopular line, from the publishers' perspective, of exposing the trade's profitability.

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Babbage went as far as to name the organisers of the trade's restrictive practices.

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Babbage's theories are said to have influenced the layout of the 1851 Great Exhibition, and his views had a strong effect on his contemporary George Julius Poulett Scrope.

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Where Marx picked up on Babbage and disagreed with Smith was on the motivation for division of labour by the manufacturer: as Babbage did, he wrote that it was for the sake of profitability, rather than productivity, and identified an impact on the concept of a trade.

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The Babbage principle is an inherent assumption in Frederick Winslow Taylor's scientific management.

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In 1837, responding to the series of eight Bridgewater Treatises, Babbage published his Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, under the title On the Power, Wisdom and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation.

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Babbage preferred the conception of creation in which a God-given natural law dominated, removing the need for continuous "contrivance".

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Babbage put forward the thesis that God had the omnipotence and foresight to create as a divine legislator.

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Mary Everest Boole argues that Babbage was introduced to Indian thought in the 1820s by her uncle George Everest:.

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Babbage was raised in the Protestant form of the Christian faith, his family having inculcated in him an orthodox form of worship.

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Babbage stated, on the basis of the design argument, that studying the works of nature had been the more appealing evidence, and the one which led him to actively profess the existence of God.

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Babbage wanted to go faster in the same directions, and had little time for the more gentlemanly component of its membership.

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Babbage's interests became more focussed, on computation and metrology, and on international contacts.

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Project announced by Babbage was to tabulate all physical constants, and then to compile an encyclopaedic work of numerical information.

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Babbage was a pioneer in the field of "absolute measurement".

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Babbage's ideas followed on from those of Johann Christian Poggendorff, and were mentioned to Brewster in 1832.

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Babbage carried out studies, around 1838, to show the superiority of the broad gauge for railways, used by Brunel's Great Western Railway.

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In 1838, Babbage invented the pilot, the metal frame attached to the front of locomotives that clears the tracks of obstacles; he constructed a dynamometer car.

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Babbage invented an ophthalmoscope, which he gave to Thomas Wharton Jones for testing.

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Babbage achieved notable results in cryptography, though this was still not known a century after his death.

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Babbage's discovery was kept a military secret, and was not published.

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However, in 1854, Babbage published the solution of a Vigenere cipher, which had been published previously in the Journal of the Society of Arts.

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In 1855, Babbage published a short letter, "Cypher Writing", in the same journal.

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Babbage involved himself in well-publicised but unpopular campaigns against public nuisances.

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Babbage once counted all the broken panes of glass of a factory, publishing in 1857 a "Table of the Relative Frequency of the Causes of Breakage of Plate Glass Windows": Of 464 broken panes, 14 were caused by "drunken men, women or boys".

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Babbage especially hated street music, and in particular the music of organ grinders, against whom he railed in various venues.

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Babbage blamed hoop-rolling boys for driving their iron hoops under horses' legs, with the result that the rider is thrown and very often the horse breaks a leg.

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Babbage directed the building of some steam-powered machines that achieved some modest success, suggesting that calculations could be mechanised.

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In Babbage's time, printed mathematical tables were calculated by human computers; in other words, by hand.

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At Cambridge, Babbage saw the fallibility of this process, and the opportunity of adding mechanisation into its management.

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Babbage began in 1822 with what he called the difference engine, made to compute values of polynomial functions.

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Babbage later produced detailed drawings for an improved version, "Difference Engine No 2", but did not receive funding from the British government.

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Babbage visited Turin in 1840 at the invitation of Giovanni Plana, who had developed in 1831 an analog computing machine that served as a perpetual calendar.

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Since Babbage's plans were continually being refined and were never completed, they intended to engage the public in the project and crowd-source the analysis of what should be built.

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On 25 July 1814, Babbage married Georgiana Whitmore, sister of British parliamentarian William Wolryche-Whitmore, at St Michael's Church in Teignmouth, Devon.

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Babbage's youngest surviving son, Henry Prevost Babbage, went on to create six small demonstration pieces for Difference Engine No 1 based on his father's designs, one of which was sent to Harvard University where it was later discovered by Howard H Aiken, pioneer of the Harvard Mark I Henry Prevost's 1910 Analytical Engine Mill, previously on display at Dudmaston Hall, is on display at the Science Museum.

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Babbage lived and worked for over 40 years at 1 Dorset Street, Marylebone, where he died, at the age of 79, on 18 October 1871; he was buried in London's Kensal Green Cemetery.

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In 1983, the autopsy report for Charles Babbage was discovered and later published by his great-great-grandson.

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Half of Babbage's brain is preserved at the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons in London.

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Babbage frequently appears in steampunk works; he has been called an iconic figure of the genre.

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