CHARLES BABBAGE (1791-1871):

The Calculating Engine

in the South Carolina College Library

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | References

Babbage’s Analytical Engine
Menabrea, Luigi Frederico; Ada A. Lovelace, 1815-1852, 
transl. and ed., “Sketch of the Analytical Engine,” Scientific Memoirs, 3 (London: Taylor, 1843): 666-731.
–While the original project for his Difference Engine languished in a dispute over funding, in 1829-1830,  Babbage envisioned a much more flexible, and mechanically more sophisticated, calculating machine, the Analytical Engine.   This new engine was divided into two parts, the Mill and the Store (roughly the central processor and the memory), and it was to be programmed with punched cards, which were already in use on the Jacquard silk-weaving loom.  In addition, it was directly linked to a mechanical output device, which could be set either to print or to impress a stereotype mould.   Babbage lectured about his ideas in Turin, Italy, in 1840, and the fullest contemporary account of the Analytical Engine appeared in Italian, in 1842, with this expanded English translation the following year.  The Analytical Engine was a private, not publicly-sponsored, project, and Babbage never saw it built, but many detailed plans survive, and after his death his son Henry built part of it. 

Ada Lovelace
Anon., Vestiges of the natural history of creation.
London: John Churchill, 1844.  Original red cloth.  C. Warren Irvin Jr. Collection.
–The English translation of Menabrea's account was by Byron’s daughter, Ada, Countess of Lovelace, who added notes derived from Babbage’s Turin presentation.  Ada Lovelace’s reputation as an ambitious amateur scientist is evidenced by the rumours that attributed to her this anonymous bestseller Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, actually by the Scottish publisher Robert Chambers. 

Babbage as Outsider: the British Association
Charles Babbage, “Short Account of a method by which Engraving on Wood may be rendered more useful for the Illustration and Description of Machinery,”
Report of the Meeting of the British Association at Newcastle
(1838): 154. 
–Though Babbage withdrew from participation in the Royal Society, he warmly endorsed the founding of its wider-ranging and more democratic rival, the British Association, and made a number of presentations at its meetings.  Later publications in various journals dealt not only with his calculating engines, and scientific politics, but also with such varied subjects as taxation, lunar geology, life peerages, lighthouses, tides, a new opthalamoscope, codes and code-breaking, and “The relative frequency of occurrences of the causes of breaking plate-glass windows” (Mechanics Magazine, 1857).

Babbage and the Great Exhibition
Charles Babbage,
The Exposition of 1851; or, Views of the industry, the science, and the government, of England
London: J. Murray, 1851. Contemporary calf. South Carolina College Library Collection.
–Among those who had responded most positively to Babbage’s plans for the Analytical Engine had been Queen Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert, so Babbage took it particularly hard when he was not invited to participate in Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, in the Crystal Palace, London, in 1851.  Shown here is Babbage’s book-length critique of the Exhibition, published that same year.

Babbage’s Autobiography
Charles Babbage,
Passages from the life of a philosopher
London: Longman, Green, 1864; reprinted London: Dawsons, 1968.
–The story of Babbage and his Calculating Engines is as much human and institutional as it is mathematical or conceptual.  Following the successful display of the demonstration Difference Engine at the second International Exhibition, in 1862, Babbage wrote a retrospective account of his career, in this autobiography, with this moving farewell advice to younger scientists who wished to follow in his tracks.  In his will, Babbage left the drawings and remaining parts of his great project to his son Henry.  After Babbage’s death, Henry, with assistance from a scientific instrument company, successfully completed a portion of the Analytical Engine, the Mill and printing mechanism, now in the Science Museum in London.

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