Charles Babbage

Charles Babbage ( born December 26, 1791 in Walworth, Surrey, England; † October 18, 1871 in London ) was an English mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and political economist.

The he designed mechanical calculator Analytical Engine is considered the forerunner of the modern computer. Inextricably linked to this is his close colleague Ada Lovelace, who described, among others, the programming of the machine in the theory and therefore is considered the first computer programmer ( the Ada programming language was named after her ).


The old two families from Devonshire derived Babbage began in 1810 to study at Trinity College, Cambridge; Focus was on mathematics and chemistry. In 1812 he founded together with John Herschel, the Analytical Society, which aims to reform the British mathematics and the dissemination of advanced methods from mainland Europe (such as the Leibniz 's differential calculus ) is. In 1814 he received his degree at Peterhouse, Cambridge. On July 2 of that year, he married Georgiana Whitmore.

In 1815 Babbage gave a series of lectures on astronomy at the Royal Institution, on March 14, 1816, he was named for his merits in the field of mathematics as a member of the Royal Society and in 1817 he reached the Master of Arts. In 1820 he was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In the same year Babbage founded along with John Herschel and George Peacock, the Royal Astronomical Society, whose secretary he was until 1824. Its first president was Sir William Herschel.

By 1822 Babbage had completed a working model of a computing machine, with the support of the British government began in 1823 to work on the difference engine no.1.

1826 Babbage published a work in which he placed the life insurance business with the help of mortality tables on a statistical basis.

After the death of his father Benjamin Babbage (1753-1827) (which Charles Babbage was a heritage that it for the rest of his life, a secure livelihood guaranteed ), two sons and wife within seven months of 1827, he entered a one-year trip through Europe the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Italy. Among other things, he boarded while the crater of Vesuvius active at that time, met several members of the Bonaparte family, examined the temple of Serapis in Pozzuoli and visited Alexander von Humboldt in Berlin. After his return, he was politically active until 1834 and supported with moderate success several liberal local politicians.

Babbage in 1828 professor of mathematics at the Luca -sian chair of mathematics at Cambridge University ( until 1839 ), but did not have any lectures. His report Reflections on the decline of science in England, and on some of its Causes of 1830, in which his discontent reflected the state of the Royal Society, in 1831 led to the founding of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

His book On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures appeared in 1832. This is an analysis of the technology and organization of industrial capitalism of his time in which he wrote, among other things, the reduction of labor costs by splitting a work process in different challenging sub-processes, which today also as " Babbage principle" is known. In the same year a first module of the difference engine of about 2,000 of a total projected 25,000 parts was completed by the precision engineer Joseph Clement.

In 1833 he began work on the analytical engine at its own expense. In 1834 he founded the Statistical Society in London.

1842 presented the British government, the project finally a difference engine no.1, 1846 Babbage finished the development of the analytical engine. From 1847 he was working on detailed plans for a difference engine no.2 ( to about 1849) who got along with significantly fewer components than no.1.

1854 succeeded as Babbage 's First deciphering an Vigenere cipher by describing how to filter the matching key from the ciphertext. He never published his method, so that scientists became aware only after his death on his findings.

In 1824 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society. In 1830 he was appointed foreign member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. After him the asteroid ( 11341 ) Babbage was named.


" One evening I was sitting in the rooms of the Analytical Society at Cambridge, his head resting in a kind of waking dream on the table and a table of logarithms open before me. Another member came into the room, looked at me, half asleep, and cried, ' Babbage tell, what do you dream? ', To which I replied: ' I think that all of these panels ( which I pointed to the logarithms ) of a machine could be calculated. ' "

Scientific work

Babbage developed with the difference engine and the analytical engine, two mechanical calculating machines, of which he was able to finish his lifetime lacks a functional copy of which latter, however, is considered the forerunner of the modern computer. His interests and activities go far beyond the pioneering work in this area also.

His published under the title Economy of machinery and manufactures factory analysis of capitalism was an important source of Karl Marx, who rezipierte this book comprehensively. After Babbage, the Babbage principle is named, which deals with labor costs.

He put the life insurance business on a mathematical basis, dealt with cryptology, navigation of underwater vehicles, and developed a theory for the formation of glaciers on. Among his many inventions in addition to the calculators including the ophthalmoscope ( ophthalmoscope ), which he developed independently by Helmholtz, and one on the front page of locomotives attached cowcatcher, the " cow catcher ". He also realized that the width of the annual ring of a tree is influenced by the weather and thus allows conclusions on the climate of yesteryear.

The occasion for the development of computing machines was the lack of reliability of numerical tables of mathematical functions, which were then created, for example for ship navigation and frequently occurring errors in the calculation for the mathematician Babbage. He went this problem using the methods of industrialization: the division of labor in individual steps ( algorithmization ) and their transfer to machines ( automation). He knew by the methods of the Frenchman Gaspard de Prony, who had been commissioned by the French Revolution, to calculate mathematical tables in the new decimal system, that even such spiritual and intellectual tasks such as manual activities can be effectively organized through division of labor. Babbage took aim to carry out the second step and to construct machines that carry out the work automatically.

The evolution of Babbage's calculating machines is inextricably linked with the performance of his close collaborator Ada Lovelace, at least theoretically described the programming of the machine and thus in anticipation, the first software.


Charles Babbage's Difference Engine was never completed in his lifetime. Only between 1989 and 1991 in the London Science Museum, the Difference Engine No. 2 functional rebuilt. Later, hobbyists have rebuilt this machine with modern, precise toy building sets like Lego and Meccano.

British researchers now want the analytical engine rebuild due to the draft plans of Babbage in a calculated ten-year project, and thus check for proper function.

Babbage employed in 1830 in " Reflections on the Decline of Science in England " with scientific fraud. He summarized how research results will be fined by

  • Trimming: leveling of irregularities
  • Cooking: Quote of results that match a theory; Omission of results that contradict the theory.
  • Forging: inventing all research results that are fitted to common doctrines or displayed on a desired goal. Falsifying with the intention of long-term deception he differs in addition to the hoax.

Charles Babbage bequeathed his brain to science. It is now on display in a glass next to the replica of his machine at the Science Museum in London.


  • A Comparative View of the Various Institutions for the Assurance of Lives, 1826
  • Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, London 1830, online at Project Gutenberg (English)
  • Economy of machinery and manufactures, London 1832, online at Project Gutenberg (English) German edition: The economics of the machine. Culture Kadmos, Berlin 1999 ISBN 3-931659-11-9
  • German edition: passages from a philosopher of life. Culture Kadmos, Berlin 1997 ISBN 3-931659-07-0

Pictures of Charles Babbage