Charles Babbage – Complete Biography, History and Inventions

Black and white photo of Charles Babbage

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. 

Quick Facts

Full Name
Charles Babbage
Net Worth
  • Gold medal of the national astronomical society
Benjamin Babbage, Henry Babbage
Place of Birth
Fields of Expertise
[“Mathematics”,”Computer Science”]
University of Cambridge
Analytical machine, Differential machine

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 as an infant. However, it all changed after his fathers death when he was only three years old. The family sank into poverty and had to go through hardship as his mother struggled to raise her many children. 

He was educated at the Charterhouse School from 1804-1810 but unfortunately he did not show any interest or effort towards mathematics and science as he found those subjects to be boring. He soon realized that school-based education wasn’t for him due to the strict regulations. He just left school one day as he did not want to appear for an exam and moved back home; this was a considerable hallmark in his early life.

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

At home, he started learning Latin, French and Greek languages on his own without any help from teachers. 

Later he was accepted at Cambridge University where he studied mathematics, science and literature. It was there that he became interested in studying about invention. Since he wanted to see if he could figure out how invention worked with math/science. 

He lost his mother when he was twenty-one years old and that made an impact on him as he became lonely.


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

In 1812, Charles Babbage became an engineer at the royal artillery office where he worked for the next 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 (without multiplication or division). His invention showed how machines 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 it 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 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 this because he had to design each part himself and make sure that it worked perfectly 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 a very important invention because this is what eventually led to the creation of the modern computer. The invention was used for complex mathematical calculations using numbers only (for example-no algebra). 

This invention was considered one of the most important inventions at the time and that’s why Charles Babbage is called the ‘Father of invention’ because it was his hard work that paved the way for moden technology.

Charles Babbage in 1848
Charles Babbage in 1848

The creation of Differential Engine helped with understanding taxes better (improvement of taxing system) which helped in collection of more taxes. He also worked on making his invention smaller and cheaper than ever before so that businesses could afford.

In 1839, Charles Babbage made another invention called the ‘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, as they look and work in similar manner.  For example, both use electricity to power them up, which is why operation is faster than ever before; each part inside the computer has been designed to fit perfectly with others, also important for a computer to function properly.

In addition, both the Differential Engine  and the computer are used to solve various mathematical operations 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 born from different women but remained close with all his children; especially his oldest son. 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).

Georgiana Babbage
Georgiana Babbage

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 created 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 Charles Babbage. The awards are mostly given to people who are working for the betterment of humanity. Which is why many people compare it with the Nobel prize.

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 contributions 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. The 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

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Frequently Asked Questions

When was Charles Babbage Born?

Charles Babbage was born on September 26, 1792 in London.

What was the invention of Charles Babbage?

Charles Babbage invented a programmable computer, called the “Analytical Engine”.

Why did Charles Babbage invent the computer?

He developed the computer to automate the work of people who did tedious calculations.

Why is Charles Babbage important?

He made a significant contribution to the development of computers.

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