Technology is advancing at such a rapid rate in these last years of the 20th century that it is most often challenging to keep up. The computer industry is flourishing and developing year after year. Although the industry is still young, the high demand for its products necessitates rapid technological advancement. Surprisingly, it took the industry another innovation and more than a century before the power of computers was finally understood. The first concept for a computer was actually developed starting in 1837, even though computers weren’t actually built until the middle of the 20th century. The idea’s originator, Charles Babbage, is renowned for creating the blueprints for two different computers.1

Babbage was a mechanical engineer, mathematician, and inventor who dedicated his life to these fields. He was a polymath whose contributions to science and technology span a wide range of subjects. Let’s look at what this great inventor accomplished in order to comprehend the influence he had on our lives.2, 1

The Difference Engine

The Difference Engine

Early in the 1830s, he started working on his first machine, the Difference Engine, but it was never finished to the level he had envisioned. This well-known mathematician had a strong grasp of mathematical tables. Mathematician Blaise Pascal created a primitive calculator in 1642, but it was unreliable at best and had much fewer features than even Babbage’s Difference Engine. Babbage attempted his hand at developing a tool that would solve these tables automatically and precisely, saving the engineers a lot of money, time, and effort.

Babbage started constructing a scale model of the mechanical calculator he had invented in 1819. He worked on the model for three years, finishing it in 1822 with what is now known as Difference Engine 0. With just a handle-crank input from the user, this device could compute and print mathematical tables.

The British government expressed interest in the device following this initial proof of concept and funded Babbage with 1,700 pounds to construct a full-scale model. This comprehensive model was designed to be capable of computing polynomial functions. The device’s construction by Babbage took several years and cost 17,000 pounds at the time, like other experimental engineering ventures.

A small functional component of the engine had been constructed by 1832, but the government financing for the project dried up. Unfortunately, it simply required far too many incredibly precise machined parts to function. In particular, the engine’s total weight would have been 13 metric tons and it would have been almost 2.4 meters tall. The design called for 25,000 moving components. It should be mentioned that Babbage’s concept for the difference engine would have, or rather does, function; it was just a matter of finance and the viability of such a big device. The Science Museum in London has a functioning replica of the difference engine device.

The Analytical Engine

Analytical Engine

Babbage tried to create a new design for Difference Engine Number 2 after failing to finish the first difference engine. He later referred to this as his analytical engine. This design was closer to a general-purpose computer, complete with conditional formulas, loops, and mechanical memory that could do arithmetic logic. Punch cards, a mechanism that will be familiar to anyone who was involved in early digital computing in the 1970s and 1980s, were intended to be used for all programming on this mechanical computer.

Ada Lovelace, a British mathematician at the time, worked on creating the machine’s instructions and rapidly finished the task. Although the analytical machine was never built, Ada is widely considered  the first computer programmer because she successfully completed the instructions.

In addition to Babbage not completing the analytical engine, the design was almost forgotten for a century until the engineer’s notebooks were discovered in 1937. British researchers were able to construct Babbage’s original design for the analytical engine in 1991. In the year 2000, they also completed the engine’s companion printer design. Among the first mechanical computers invented, Babbage’s designs and pseudo-working prototypes were considered revolutionary. If he had received more funding and support at the time, the world of computing might be far more advanced today.

Babbage’s passion for math permeated every part of his existence. He adored patterns and numbers, and he gathered information of all kinds. In fact, he was so invested in his collection that he would pause his inspection and take the pulse of each animal he saw. He had the opinion that there was some sort of perfect order in the cosmos, and that if one could just collect enough data and organize it into tables, a careful examination of all the data would result in a profound comprehension of the universe.1

Babbage’s intentions alone set him out as a man who was ahead of his time, despite the fact that his ultimate dream was not realized. Although his ideas were almost too far ahead of their time and did not lead to further advancement in the industry, they are nevertheless outstanding and continue to inspire visionaries and futurists in the field of computers today.


  1. Charles Babbage: His Life and Contributions. (n.d.). Retrieved July 29, 2022, from 
  2. Charles Babbage’s Inventions Revolutionized Computing and the World. (n.d.). Retrieved July 29, 2022, from