Charles Babbage was a Mathematician, inventor, philosopher and mechanical engineer. His place of birth is not confirmed but according to some historians he was born in London, England on 26th December 1791. His early education was from a country school in Alphington, Exeter after he was down from a dangerous fever. Due to a request from his parents he was not pushed too much in studies by his teachers. Babbage later claimed that some of his rather ingenuous reasoning was a result of this relaxation. He also attended the King Edward VI Grammar School in South Devon but due to his weak health he had to return to private tutoring.
Charles and Mathematics
Babbage’s aptitude for mathematics was polished in the ‘Holmwood Academy’. The academy was stocked with mathematical books which captured his attention and interest. He started his studies in the Trinity College, Cambridge in October 1810. Here he was involved in many activities and clubs such as the Ghost Club, Analytical Society and the Extractors Club. Babbage was not satisfied with the level of mathematics that was taught here at the Trinity College.
Studying Leibniz, Thomas Simpson, Joseph Louis Lagrange he found a lot of disappointment in the lack of conceptual understanding and theory that they offered. He wanted more out of this subject. Hence it was not a surprise that after transferring to Peterhouse, Cambridge, he became the highest ranked mathematician there but unfortunately he could not graduate with honors. Babbage accomplished an honorary degree without going through an exam in 1814.
Inventions and Accomplishments Charles Babbage was also considered to be ‘Father of Computer’. It was his idea that was used by the later inventors to produce what is now the modern day computer. He got the idea of a mechanically calculating machine that would make the work of humans easier and much more accurate. His project was funded by the government for nearly a decade until he lost their trust and confidence. His steam powered machines were thus left incomplete.
He invented the ‘Difference Engine’ in 1822 which ran on the method of ‘finite differences’. Its function was to calculate the values of the polynomial functions. The prototypes of the difference engine are displayed in the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford. A more multifaceted design was used in Babbage’s next creation known as the ‘Analytical Engine’. He continued with its development till his death. The Analytical Engine can truly be called the forerunner of the modern computer.
Babbage has many accomplishments credited to his name such as the ‘Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society’ for his inventions which he received in 1824. He was a Lucasian mathematics professor at University of Cambridge. He made many contributions in the scientific periodicals. He was also an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1832. It was Babbage who invented the ‘pilot’ which is the metal frame in front of engines that is responsible for clearance of tracks from obstacles. The ‘Babbage Principle’ is used in the ‘Economy of Machine and Manufacture’. He also contributed in founding the current postal system in the UK.
Charles Babbage died on 18th October 1871 and was buried in London in the Kensal Green cemetery. His brain is displayed in halves in two museums; the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons in London and in the Science Museum, London.