Charles Babbage

Overview Is it possible that the ancestor to our modern-day computers was a mechanical computer powered by gears, levers, and steam? Thanks to the work of the mathematicians Charles Babbage and Ada Byron in the 1830s, this was, in fact, the case. The first data storage, processor, and programming languages came into existence with the design of the Analytical Engine. The Internet has plenty of information about Charles Babbage and Ada Byron, as well as the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine, and the impact they had on modern computer design.

Charles Babbage Resources Charles Babbage was considered an eccentric mathematician during his lifetime. In 1822, he proposed the Difference Engine. Then, in 1834, he began working on the more complex and ambitious Analytical Engine. For insight into his life and his career, read a biography of Charles Babbage at www-groups.dcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/. For a brief but informative description of his work on the Analytical Engine and the Difference Engine, visit www.maxmon.com/1830ad.htm. More detailed information about Charles Babbage’s work as an inventor and a mathematician can be found at The Babbage Pages (www.ex.ac.uk/BABBAGE/).

Ada Byron Information Ada Byron was a mathematician with whom Charles Babbage collaborated to develop the Analytical Engine. She is considered to be the founder of scientific computing. Read a brief biography of Ada Byron at www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/lovelace.html. Many of Ada Byron’s notes regarding programming and the Analytical Engine still exist today. Selections from these notes can be read at either this Yale.edu page or this Wikipedia Web page.

Difference Engine and Analytical Engine Information Considering the importance of an invention such as the Analytical Engine, it is no wonder that it’s a popular topic on the Web. Brief descriptions, and photos of both of Babbage’s Engines can be found at www.tcf.ua.edu/az/ITHistoryoutline.htm. Another Web page with photos, illustrations, and diagrams is Babbage’s Analytical Engine. If you’re looking for information about the use of punch cards, historical documents, or a glossary of Babbage’s terms, you’ll find it at www.fourmilab.ch/babbage/contents.html.

Additional Links Read all about the high-level programming language known as Ada--named after Ada Byron--by visiting www.adahome.com/History/.

The Charles Babbage Institute serves as a center for the history of information technology. Visit this Institute’s Web site ( www.cbi.umn.edu/) to view their collections, exhibits, research, and computer history resources.