Charles Babbage

Charles Babbage

Hardware engineer

December 26, 1791 — October 18, 1871

Inducted in the Class of 1998

Notable accomplishments:

  • Designed and oversaw construction of an unfinished prototype Difference Engine, an early calculating machine
  • Designed a follow-up Analytical Machine, which would load commands using punch cards from Jacquard looms

“The object of the present volume is to point out the effects and the advantages which arise from the use of tools and machines; to endeavour to classify their modes of action; and to trace both the causes and the consequences of applying machinery to supersede the skill and power of the human arm.” (“On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures,” 1831)

“As soon as an Analytical Engine exists, it will necessarily guide the future course of the science. Whenever any result is sought by its aid, the question will then arise — by what course of calculation can these results be arrived at by the machine in the shortest time?” (“Passages from the Life of a Philosopher,” 1864)

“On two occasions I have been asked, ‘Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?’ …. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.”
(“Passages from the Life of a Philosopher,” 1864)

Suggested reading:
“Passages from the Life of a Philosopher,” by Charles Babbage (1864)

“Charles Babbage: Pioneer of the Computer,” by Anthony Hyman (1985)

“Glory and Failure: The Difference Engines of Johann Müller, Charles Babbage, and Georg and Edvard Sheutz,” by Michael Lindgren and Craig G. McKay (1990)

“The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer,” by Doron Swade (2000)

Learn more:
Biography of Charles Babbage at the Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota