Charles Babbage – Complete Biography, History and Inventions

Charles Babbage
Charles Babbage was a mathematician who created mechanical computing devices.

Who Was Charles Babbage?

Charles Babbage was a mathematician and polymath born in 1791, the son of a wealthy textile merchant. He studied mathematics at Cambridge and eventually became Lucasian professor of mathematics. At this point in his life he had already invented many calculating machines, one of which could make mathematical calculations using punch cards that were developed by a French engineer Jacques de Vaucanson.

Babbage then became interested with the idea of improving how people calculated. He imagined that all computations could be carried out mechanically and that these devices should be engineered on as small a scale as possible to allow calculation to be made more rapidly and accurately. 

His ideas, being a great mathematician, led him to develop some mechanical calculating devices including an adding machine, the difference engine and the analytical engine. These inventions were so far ahead of their time that he was unable to have them manufactured while he was alive.

Babbage’s calculating machines were built in the late 19th century by his son, and many ideas that Babbage had used were implemented on more advanced mechanical calculators including those from Germany and America.

In 1951 the first actual computer that could make automatic calculations using an electronic circuit which obeyed instructions represented by binary numbers was made by John Atanasoff.

Early Life and Education

Charles Babbage was born on December 26, 1791 in London, England. His family was very rich and he enjoyed a comfortable life. However he had a difficult childhood because of the death of his father when he was only three years old; with this tragedy came poverty and hardship for his mother as she struggled to raise her many children during that time period. 

Charles’ education was at Charterhouse School from 1804-1810 but unfortunately he did not show any interest or effort towards mathematics and science since they were so boring to him. He quickly learned that school-based education wasn’t for him due to its strict regulations. He moved back home after school one day because he didn’t want to sit for an exam; this was a considerable hallmark in his early life.

Charles Babbage as a young man
Charles Babbage as a young man

He then returned home and started learning the Latin, French and Greek languages on his own without any help from teachers, books or other forms of assistance. After this he continued his education at Cambridge University where he studied mathematics, science and literature; there he became interested in studying about invention, but it wasn’t really because his heart was into invention-it was more like a challenge for him to see if he could figure out how invention worked with math/science. 

His mother died when Charles was twenty-one years old. This made him feel very lonely since he had experienced so much sadness in losing both of his parents in his early life.

Career 

Charles was a mathematician and  polymath who studied many topics in his life such as invention, mathematics, literature and science. A polymath is someone who is very well-educated in terms of invention, engineering or other subjects that relate to math/science.

In 1812, Charles Babbage became an engineer at the royal artillery office where he worked for eight years. In 1822, he gave a lecture about invention; this lecture illustrated how invention was related to math/science. 

Then later on that same year, he made the first prototype of a difference engine which dealt with numbers: negative/positive whole numbers only dealing with addition and subtraction only(without multiplication or division). His invention showed how numbers could find solutions to complex problems which then led to the invention of a computer.

After he made this invention, the government didn’t think it was a good invention because they didn’t know what to do with it; they thought that invention was just too complicated and no one could make anything of it. 

Charles Babbage at middle age
Charles Babbage at middle age

He then gave up on invention for a while until 1832 when he started his next invention called “Analytical engine” which was basically an improved version of his first invention with more features such as: multiplication, division, automatic storage/retrieval plus many other tasks  This invention is still considered to be one of the best inventions in history.

It was so complicated that no one at that time could understand it, therefore the invention wasn’t commercialized.  Moreover, Charles Babbage took a long time to complete his invention because he had to design each part of it himself and make sure that the invention did everything correctly before starting on another part. He even designed specific parts for inventions such as the ones used in making gears, screw cuts and other mechanical pieces used in the invention.

What Did Charles Babbage Invent?

Charles Babbage is known for inventing the Differential Engine. This invention is considered to be very important in invention history because it was the invention that eventually led to the invention of the computer.  The invention was used for mathematical calculations which could find solutions to complex problems using numbers only (for example-no algebra). 

This invention was considered a big accomplishment at that time since no one had invented anything like this before. It started out as just an idea in 1812, but he later on developed it into what we know today as a computer.That’s why Charles Babbage is known as ‘Father of invention’ because of his invention that made us see how useful invention can be and inspired us to keep inventing things even though they might seem impossible at first.

Charles Babbage in 1848
Charles Babbage in 1848

It took 8 years to complete this invention since he had to design each piece himself and make sure that it did everything correctly before moving onto another aspect of his invention.

In 1833, Charles Babbage was finally able to make a differential engine. This invention made people realize how inventions could be used for math/science and also how inventions could help us understand certain situations better through numbers.  

His invention helped with understanding taxes better  (improvement of taxing system) which helped in getting more money from the commoners; he also worked on making his invention smaller and cheaper than ever before so that businesses could afford it and use it to their advantage.

In 1839, the differential engine was working by that time and Charles Babbage made another invention called “Analytical engine” which was a much improved version of his first invention with more features such as: multiplication, division, automatic storage/retrieval plus many other tasks. This second invention is still considered to be one of the best inventions in history because it helped us understand certain situations better through numbers and calculations.

Charles Babbage in his later years
Charles Babbage in his later years

The Differential Engine and Modern Day Computers

Today, the difference engine can be considered as a prototype of modern day computers. The reason for this is because these two are almost similar in how they work and what they do.  For example, both use electricity to power them up so that everything can be done much faster than ever before; each part inside the computer has been designed to fit perfectly with other parts which is also very important for a computer to function properly.

In addition, the Differential Engine was able to solve mathematical problems using numbers only (for example-no algebra) while computers today are able to solve various mathematical operations just like the Differential Engine did and help scientists/businesses understand certain situations better through numbers/calculations/etc. Plus, both the computer and Differential Engine are used to complete tasks that are too long or complex for humans to do.

Charles Babbage: Marriage, Children and Personal Life

Charles Babbage married Georgiana Whitmore in 1827. Charles had many sons all born from different women but he was still very close with them all, especially his oldest son who he loved to spend time with. He also grew up spending most of his free time with his family rather than doing things by himself because that is how he felt the happiest.    

Georgiana Babbage
Georgiana Babbage

But despite all this success, family and happiness, Charles Babbage faced a great deal of adversity in life. Throughout his entire life and as a child too, Charles was constantly bullied by other people because of his appearance (he had a really small head which didn’t look normal to others). No one except for those close to him knew why he acted the way he did but everyone could tell that there wasn’t something “normal” about him. 

Charles Babbage died in 1871 from old age. One year after Charles Babbage had passed away from old age, a group of people who admired him gathered together to create a memorial fund for him . The main purpose of this fund was to give awards to those who worked hard and achieved success through scientific work similar to that which Charles relied on during his life.   

At first they awarded only one person but now they award multiple people each year in different states around the world-many refer to these awards as “Nobel Prizes” because many of them are given to those who have helped humans through discoveries or inventions.

Charles Babbage: Awards and Achievements

After Charles Babbage’s death, his close friends remembered him for all the work he had done in science and math so they started a fund to award people who had a similar contribution to the field  to what Charles had done. The most famous person who received one of these awards was Alan Turing (who is known as “the father of modern computers”) because of his enormous contribution to the field.

Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society

The most notable award that Charles Babbage received was  the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society . This award was given to him because of his contribution to the field of astronomy-in general, this medal is meant for those who have worked hard in a science/math related career and managed to become one of the best in their field.

Charles Babbage Published Works

  • “An Investigation into the principles of Permanent Magnets, intended asa sequel to those laid down by M. Ampère” (1823)  
  • “Description & Illustration of Two Calculating Engines” (1832) 
  •  “The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise” (1837-1838) 
  • “Elements of Determinants” (1849)
 

 
 
 

 

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