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Charles Babbage

December 26, 1791 Teignmouth, Devonshire, UK
October 18, 1871, London, UK

Babbage_young.gif (7120 bytes)
Charles Babbage

principal papers
see main text


difference enigne
difference machine



difference engine
analytical engine


see also


related subjects
Ada Lovelace, Difference Engine, Analytical engine, Science Museum London


Charles Babbage designs the Difference Engine but the machine will never be realized. He also start plans for the Analytical engine. But it will be his son that realizes the project in part.


Charles Babbage was born in London on December 26, 1792 (3), the son of Benjamin Babbage, a London banker. As a youth Babbage was his own instructor in algebra, of which he was passionately fond, and was well-read in the continental mathematics of his day. Upon entering Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1811, he found himself far in advance of his tutors in mathematics.

With Herschel, Peacock, and others, Babbage founded the Analytical Society for promoting continental mathematics and, reforming the mathematics of Newton, then taught at the university.

In his twenties Babbage worked as a mathematician, principally in the calculus of functions. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, in 1816, and played a prominent part in the foundation of the Astronomical Society (later Royal Astronomical Society) in 1820. It was about this time that Babbage first acquired the interest in calculating machinery that became his consuming passion for the remainder of his life.

Throughout his life Babbage worked in many intellectual fields typical of his day, and made contributions that would have assured his fame irrespective of the Difference and Analytical Engines.

Prominent among his published works are:

  • A Comparative View of the Various Institutions for the Assurance of Lives (1826); an actuarial paper,
  • Table of Logarithms of the Natural Numbers from 1 to 108, 000 (1827),
  • Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830),
  • On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures (1832),
  • Ninth Bridgewater Treatise (1837),
  • and the autobiographical Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864).

Babbage occupied the Lucasian chair of mathematics at Cambridge from 1828 to 1839. He played an important role in the establishment of the Association for the Advancement of Science and the Statistical Society (later Royal Statistical Society).

Despite his many achievements, the failure to construct his calculating machines, and in particular the failure of the government to support his work, left Babbage in his declining years a disappointed and embittered man. He died at his home in Dorset Street, London, on October 18, 1871. 



Born in Teignmoth, Devonshire, UK


Starts mathematical studies in Trinity College Cambridge


Married Georgiana Withmore, they will have 3 sons and 1 daughter


Member of the Royal Society


Traveled to France with Herschel and met with important mathematicians. Gaspard de Prony will influence his later work on the D.E.


Cofounder of the Astronomical Society,
Formulated the general idea of the Difference Engine


Publishing of functions of the Difference Engine and first operational model of the D.E.


Construction of a full scale DE


First and only attempt in fundraising by creating life expectancy tables for an insurance company


Babbage's father (Benjamin Babbage), his second son and his wife all died in this year.


Extended Europe tour,
Appointed to a chair at the Cambridge university,
Establishment of the "Saturdaynight Society" a gathering of prominent scientists and politicians at Dorset street no. 1


Second design of the Difference Engine


Redesign of control mechanisms of the Difference Engine,
Publication of "On the Economy of Machinery and Manufacturers" the first book on management theories.


Construction of DE ceased due to a financial based conflict between Babbage and the engineer Clement


The basic ideas for the Analytical Engine were formulated; later recognized as the foundations of the universal calculating machine


Introduction of punched cards into the A.M.


Babbage engaged into the dispute on the width of railroad tracks


Different designs of or changes to the A.M. were made


Ada Lovelace starts to translate the public address of Luigi Menebrea on the A.E. and added notes


Babbage wrote the ballet "Alethes and Iris" to get familiar with and study theater lighting.


Construction work on the Analytical machine ends, but writing and explanations on the AE continued.


The designs for Difference Engine No.2 were ready


Babbages suddenly continued the design of the Analytical Engine and started to produce experimental models of his AE


When his death occurred a model of a simple mill and printing mechanism was all that was made of this grand genius's idea of the AE

Babbage died embittered in his home in London, UK


Honors and Awards

Elected Fellow of the Royal Society - 1816

First gold medal of the Astronomical Society of London




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