Charles Babbage was a man way ahead of his time! While his friends were busy involved in the politics of the 1700s and 1800s, Babbage was designing machines that would one day change the world. His machines later laid the foundations for the modern computer.
Although much of his early life is not clear, it is projected that Babbage was born on December 26, 1791 in London, England. He was the son of London banker Benjamin Babbage, and his wife, Betsy Plumleigh Babbage. When he was young, Babbage was sent to a private academy at Fort Hill in Middlesex, where he showed a great interest in mathematics. After completing his schooling at the academy, Babbage continued to study mathematics privately.
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University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
In 1811, Charles Babbage left London to go to Cambridge, where he attended Trinity College. However, Babbage did not particularly enjoy his experience at Trinity. Not only was he dissatisfied with the way they taught mathematics at the college, but he was also way ahead of his tutors!
Shortly after entering Trinity College, Babbage co-founded the Analytical Society. Set up in 1812, the Analytical Society comprised of 12 men, all of whom were Cambridge undergraduates. The goal of this society was to promote continental mathematics and to reform the teachings at Trinity.
Two years later, Charles Babbage graduated from Trinity College. He got married, before moving back to London in 1815. A year later, in 1816, Babbage was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London. Shortly after that, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. It was at this time that Babbage's great interest in calculating machines surfaced.
In 1819, Charles Babbage began constructing a machine that he called the Difference Engine. This was a steam-powered mechanical calculator designed to print astronomical tables. It could perform all sorts of complex mathematical operations! Three years later, a small prototype was completed. Babbage then envisioned a large Difference Engine with more capabilities than his small prototype. However, a machine such as this would be expensive. Thus, Babbage appealed to the English government. The government granted Babbage £1500. However, this was not enough to complete a large Difference Engine. As a matter of fact, the expense of this machine was getting way out of hand. Further government funding accumulated to £17000. In addition to this, Babbage had paid £6000 out of his own pocket! The project was ended in 1842, when the government refused to provide further funding.
At this time, Charles Babbage had come up with a new idea. He called this new machine the Analytical Engine. This mechanical calculator was to be much more complex than the Difference Engine. It was to be a general-purpose calculator that could solve any mathematical problem that it was given! In addition, this machine had many parts that are analogous to the modern computer. Its mill was the calculating unit, which performed similar tasks to the modern PC's central processing unit. The Analytical Engine's store held the data that was to be processed, like a modern computer's memory, and the reader/printer was the machine's input/output devices! Unfortunately, Babbage was never able to successfully complete any of his designs for this machine. The inability to complete his Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine greatly disappointed Babbage. He died on October 18, 1871.
Although Babbage never completed any of his machines, his ideas paved a road for modern computers. They led the world in the right direction to a digital world.