Charles Babbage was born in London (1791 – 1871) to a rich banker named Benjamin Babbage. Because his father was so wealthy he was able to receive an elite education. As he grew up he taught himself math and began to love it. In 1810 he began to study at Cambridge where he felt the math department was not sufficient and so created the Analytical Society with various friends, which “promoted continental mathematics” and reformed the mathematics that Newton had taught. In 1814 he married Georgiana Whitmore, only three of their children lived to adulthood, one of whom died along with her in 1827.
In 1812 Charles Babbage began to think of a machine that could work so precisely that it would eliminate human error in calculations. He wrote a paper for a difference machine, which he presented to and was approved by the Royal Astronomical Society in 1822. This machine was able to calculate polynomials by the difference method. The government gave him £1500 to construct his difference machine. Joseph Clement was hired to help in the assembling of the machine in 1823.
By 1827 Babbage was exhausted by his wife, child and father’s deaths and so after some persuasion took a trip around Europe where he visited various universities and manufacturing companies. Upon his return there were many rumors that his work had been a failure and that he had wasted all of the government’s funding money. The government gave him more funding upon which it would be hard for him to receive funding for his projects. Clement refused to continue his work when Babbage wanted him to travel across town to his (Babbage's) studio to work. Babbage told him to ask the government for compensation but Clement refused to do this as well as hand over the drawings and tools, which was the end of Babbage’s first machine.
From 1833 – 1842 Babbage worked on ideas for a machine that could do all calculations. It used Jacquard punch cards and had two parts, the mill and the store. The mill was “analogous to a modern computer’s CPU.” (Central Processing Unit). This Analytical Machine was the worlds first real computer. The design for it emerged by 1835 after "500 design drawings, 100 sheets of mechanical notation and 700 sheets of scribbles". Babbage only constructed small test parts and so the machine was never fully constructed. Babbage and Ada Lovelace met in 1833; she would translate a paper on an Analytical Engine by Federico Luigi Menabrea and add notes by her and Babbage. There were seven notes in total, which turned out to be three times the length of the original paper. The notes are now the best description of the engines and from these notes Lovelace is often considered the world’s first programmer.
Between 1846 and 1849 Babbage started with a new idea that he had for a second difference machine. It had eight thousand parts; three times fewer than the past different machine. He did not try to change his original plan as he did on other projects; he also did not construct the machine. It measured eleven feet long and seven feet high. In 1991 the difference machine was constructed and worked perfectly; it is now exhibited in Science Museum in London. Though none of his machines were successful during his lifetime he is known as the “father of computing.” When he died in 1871 there was no obituary for him in the Royal Society and the Times “ridiculed” him. In 1908 his brain was dissected, after being preserved in alcohol for 37 years, by Sir Victor Horsley who said he was “a very profound thinker.” Charles Babbage set the stage for one of the greatest human invensions, the computer.
For an image of Babbage’s dissected brain see: (http://www.flickr.com/photos/gaetanlee/2535558133/)
For a video on how the 2nd difference machine works see: (http://www.computerhistory.org/babbage/)
For more information on Ada Lovelace see: (http://www.computerhistory.org/babbage/adalovelace/)
For more information on modern computers see:
Central Processing Unit (CPU)
The Great Idea Finder 2006 Charles Babbage: http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventors/babbage.htm
J.A.N. Lee September 1994 Charles Babbage: http://ei.cs.vt.edu/~history/Babbage.html
Charles Babbage: http://www.charlesbabbage.net/