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Famous Scientists and their Inventions - Charles Babbage

Famous Scientists and their Inventions - Charles Babbage

Born- 26 December 1791  London

Died- 18 October 1871 Marylebone  London

Charles Babbage was one of four children born to Benjamin Babbage, a respected banker and Betsy Plumleigh Teape.

Around the age of eight, Babbage was sent to a country school in Alphington near Exeter to recover from a life-threatening fever. For a short time, he attended King Edward VI Grammar School in Totnes, South Devon, but his health forced him back to private tutors for a time. He was often unwell as a child and was educated for long spells at home by a private tutor. By the time he had been accepted into Cambridge, he had developed a very keen interest in mathematics.

Babbage arrived at Cambridge in October 1810. He was already self-taught in some parts of contemporary mathematics having studied in this subject prior to university. As a result, he was disappointed in the standard mathematical instruction available at the university.

Babbage with his friends John Herschel, George Peacock and several other friends formed the Analytical Society in 1812. As a student, Babbage was also a member of other societies such as The Ghost Club, concerned with investigating supernatural phenomena, and the Extractors Club, dedicated to liberating its members from the madhouse, should any be committed to one.

In 1812 Babbage transferred to Peterhouse, Cambridge He was the top mathematician there, but did not graduate with honours. He instead received a degree without examination in 1814. He 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.

After leaving university his career choices did not run smoothly, however, in 1820 he was very influential in forming the Royal Astronomical Society. In 1828 Babbage was awarded Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge. A title once held by Sir Isaac Newton and physicist Stephen Hawking. This allowed him to study without having to teach. It was during this period that Babbage and academic friend Herschel started discussing the possibility of logarithmic tables being calculated by machine in order to speed up the process and to eliminate human error.


Although Babbage created a detailed and feasible design, metalworking techniques of the time made it very difficult to produce with enough precision the parts for his remarkable assemblage of whirring columns and cogs. Having spent a vast sum of money without building a working “engine”, Babbage was forced to abandon the project. He then developed plans for a bigger, better, machine - Difference Engine 2. He also worked on another invention, the more complex Analytical Engine, a revolutionary device on which his fame as a computer pioneer now largely rests. It was intended to be able to perform any arithmetical calculation using punched cards that would deliver the instructions, as well as a memory unit to store numbers and many other fundamental components of today's computers. The remarkable British mathematician Ada Lovelace completed a program for the Analytical Engine but neither it nor the Difference Engine 2, were finished in Babbage's lifetime.


"It is therefore not unreasonable to suppose that some portion of the neglect of science in England, may be attributed to the system of education we pursue."

"A tool is usually more simple than a machine; it is generally used with the hand, whilst a machine is frequently moved by animal or steam power."

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