Who invented the first Computer

In 1822 Charles Babbage invented the first mechanical computer. Unfortunately construction of that first computer wasn’t completed until 1991. It is indeed ironic that Charles Babbage, the inventor and designer of the first programmable computer, never lived to see his brainchild reach reality. With a manner and frugality that some suggest was the prototype for Charles Dickens’ Scrooge, he was one of the most creative men of the nineteenth century. While he was a great designer and inventor there were just too many obstacles that prevented the difference engine from being completed.

Charles Babbage: Inventor And Problem Solver

While Charles Babbage had a brilliant mind, he did not always present himself or his ideas effectively. Sometimes others got the credit for problem solutions, theories, and inventions he discovered years earlier.

  • In the field of cryptography he was ahead of everyone else, breaking Vigenère’s autokey cipher, thought to be an “indecipherable cipher.” Even though his solution was used in British military campaigns, it wasn’t published until years later and the credit for the solution was given to Friedrich Kasiski, who made the discovery years after Babbage.
  • He invented the pilot (commonly called a “cow catcher”) for early locomotives. It is the scoop that appears on the front of locomotives. It worked to clear obstacles off the track without the need to stop and manually clear the track.
  • Charles Babbage invented the first ophthalmoscope, used for examining the inside of the eye. He gave it to a doctor of his acquaintance for testing and then forgot about it. Later, when Hermann von Helmholtz independently developed the same instrument, Babbage did not receive any credit.

Charles Babbage: Ideas And Theories

His ideas and theories ranged far and wide. From religion to industry, Charles Babbage had theories on nearly everything.

  • In 1837 he wrote The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise: On the Power, Wisdom and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation. His thesis was that God was smart enough and powerful enough to develop a built in timetable that would allow each species to develop at its own appropriate time, thus not requiring constant interventions.
  • During the time spent developing the difference engine, Babbage wrote a book, On the Economy of Machine and Manufacture, in which he called for a division of labor in which highly skilled employees would work only on those tasks requiring high skill levels. This was not always the way things were done in the early nineteenth century.

The Machine That Took 150+ Years To Build

There are many reasons why Babbage never saw the physical representation of his invention. Some were of his own making while others were beyond his control.

  • Six different administrations were in power during the development of the engine. With each shift in power, pending governmental financial support had to be reviewed and renewed.
  • Many contract disputes arose between Babbage and Joseph Clements, the engineer contracted to actually acquire the parts and build the physical device.
  • The tragic death of his father and his wife required him to take a year off to recover from his loss.
  • Difficulty with finances. Because of the frequent governmental changes, Babbage frequently had to subsidize his work with his own personal funds.

Programming the device was a potential problem, but solved by August Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace (see August Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace), the “Mother of Programming.”

Charles Babbage labored over the invention of his difference engine for many years. Eventually the government lost interest and the difference engine faded into history. Over 150 years later (1991), a fully functioning difference engine was delivered to the London Science Museum. Eleven years later (2002) a compatible printer completed the system. After visiting the museum, Nathan Myhrvold, decided he wanted one for himself. Myhrvold was a millionaire many times over from his work with computers and technology. The device is currently on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, the heart of Silicon Valley and the modern computer revolution.

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