Charles Babbage Biography & History

A short biography of the life and history of Charles Babbage inventor, mathematician and philosopher who developed calculating machines that were the first computing machines.


Charles Babbage Biography & History Includes:
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Charles Babbage was an English scientist: a mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer.

Out of all his work, Babbage is best remembered for originating the concept of a programmable computer.

As a result, Charles Babbage is often given the title: the Father of Computing.'

In his life, Babbage detailed plans for mechanical calculating engines, difference engines, and analytical engines. Although not the computers we know today, these were some of the first computers that were made.

Babbage's birth & early life

Charles Babbage was born on 26 December 1791 and was most likely to have been born at 44 Crosby Row, Walworth Road, London, England. There is some dispute about the date of his birth because The Times newspaper in their obituary of him gave his date of birth as 1792, but as the local parish register shows he was baptised in early 1920, the date given in The Times is probably incorrect.

When the young Charles Babbage was eight years old he attended Alphington near Exeter to recover from ill-health and to receive schooling. Then he moved to King Edward VI Grammar School located in Totnes South Devon, but poor health meant he needed to be taught by private tutors.

The fact that the Babbage family was wealthy meant he was able to receive a considerable amount of private tutoring.

The next move in Babbage's education was to a small educational academy located in Enfield, in Middlesex just outside London. This institution had a library where Charles Babbage spent many long hours reading about mathematics - this is where his love of mathematics started to grow.

While Babbage was attending the academy, he was also being tutored by two other people - here he learned about the classic mathematical methods that enabled him to be admitted to Cambridge University.

Charles Babbage at Cambridge

Charles Babbage went up to Cambridge in October 1810. His previous studies had prepared him very well for his time there. In fact he was already ahead of much of the instruction he received there in many aspects.

While at Cambridge, Babbage made links with other people whose names were to become widely known in the scientific community including John Herschel, and George Peacock.

Babbage was a brilliant mathematician, although he did not graduate with honours, but received his degree in 1814 without having the need to sit any examinations.

Babbage marries

In 1814 - the same year that Babbage graduated from Cambridge, he married Georgiana Whitmore. They had eight children together, but only three lived beyond childhood.

A year after their marriage, in 1815, Charles and Georgina moved to a home in London off Portland Place.

1827 was a tragic year for Babbage. His father with whom he had had a troubled relationship, his second son (Charles), his wife Georgiana and a new born son all died.

Being close to breakdown as a result of these personal tragedies, Babbage went on an extended trip on the Continent.

In 1828, a year after the death of his wife, Babbage moved to another home at 1 Dorset Street, Marylebone. This remained his home until his death.

Then around 1834, only a few years later, Babbage's daughter, Georgiana, of whom he was particularly fond, died while still in her teens.

As a result of all these personal tragedies, Babbage immersed himself in work and he never remarried.

Babbage after Cambridge

After he had graduated at Cambridge, Babbage was taken on by the Royal Society - an august scientific society in London. His appointment entailed lecturing on Calculus. He was very successful and after two years he was elected a member.

In addition to his activities at the Royal Institution, Babbage linked up with some University friends and he was instrumental in setting up the Astronomical Society in 1820.

He was also invited to take up a position of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge.

Babbage's computers

Charles Babbage is chiefly known for his work on computers. In the 1820s, he worked on what he called his 'Difference Engine.' The initial machine used six wheels and could perform mathematical calculations. He used this machine to demonstrate the principle to a number of audiences.

Following on from this, Babbage worked on plans for a second, larger and better machine which he called his 'Difference Engine 2.' Babbage also devoted even more time to a further development of the principles in a machine he referred to as an 'Analytical Engine.' This was a much more complex machine that was able to perform any mathematical calculation. The design used punched cards to deliver instructions and it also incorporated a memory unit to store numbers as well as having several other items, all of which form the basis of today's computers.

A British mathematician named Ada Lovelace wrote a programme for the Analytical engine. As a result of this work, Ada Lovelace is often regarded as the first computer programmer.

Sadly, neither the Analytical Engine, nor the Difference Engine 2 were completed in Babbage's lifetime.

Charles Babbage: later life

From the descriptions of the life of Charles Babbage it can be seen that diplomacy was not Babbage's strong point. He was a proud and principled man, but he was often savage in attacking the scientific establishment. As a result, he offended many whose support he needed.

Charles Babbage died on Oct. 18, 1871. He is buried in the Kensal Green Cemetery in London. One half of his brain is preserved in Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons while the other half can be viewed in the London Science Museum.



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