19th century witnessed the rise of several genius mathematicians and among them was the English multitalented mathematician Charles Babbage. His other talents include inventions, mechanical engineering and philosophy. He is known for his contribution to all those aforementioned fields but what immortalized his name was originating the concept of a digital computer. Hence, he is still remembered as ‘father of the computer’ for inventing the first mechanical computer.
Babbage’s birthplace and date are both disputable as according to his obituary, he was born on 26 December, 1792 but a nephew claimed that it was a year earlier. The most popular speculation is that he was born at Crosby Row in London, England. He was born to an affluent family as his father Benjamin Babbage was a banking partner at Praed’s & Co. The family moved to East Teignmouth and Babbage was sent to a country school to recuperate after suffering from a fatal fever at the age of eight. He briefly attended King Edward VI Grammar School but his frail health had him being privately tutored.
Afterwards, he joined the Holmwood Academy in Baker Street and while he was encouraged to explore his love of mathematics when he found a library at the academy. He was tutored by several good teachers before he was accepted at Cambridge. In 1810, when he arrived at Trinity College, Cambridge, he felt a little disappointed by the method and content of instruction, for he already was well-versed in the subject of mathematics. At the campus he formed friendship with other renowned figures such as John Herschel, George Peacock and Edward Ryan who together formed an analytical society. Moreover, he was a member of a ghost club dedicated to investigating supernatural and paranormal phenomenon.
Although Babbage was one of the top-ranking mathematicians when transferred to Peterhouse, Cambridge in 1812, he did not sit in the examination. In spite of that he was awarded the degree without examination. Afterwards he gave lectures at Royal Institution teaching astronomy. In 1816, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. For many years after graduation he remained unsuccessful in finding a good job. He was shortlisted for a teaching job at Haileybury College but failed to be selected for the position.
In the following years he traveled to Paris with Herschel where he met prominent physicist and mathematicians. The electrodynamics of Arago’s rotations was one of their projects published in 1925 which was later expanded by Michael Faraday. Babbage’s father supported him financially while he was experimenting and trying to invent things. Upon his father’s death, he ended inheriting thousands of sterling pounds which now be equivalent to several millions sterling pounds. He travelled across Europe after his wife’s death and returned to London when he was offered a position at Cambridge University as a professor which he was previously denied a number of times.
In addition to that, Babbage is credited for laying foundation for the Astronomical Society. The purpose of that society was to standardize the astronomical calculations which Babbage succeeded to accomplish with his skill set in computation and was awarded a Gold Medal for his service. His concept for analytical engine lead to the conception of modern computer. Science Museum, London has put on display some of his unfinished models of mechanical engines. In his lifetime the plans for difference engine did not succeed, however, when his plan was put into practice in 1991 the engine functioned fairly well.