Slideshow

Charles Babbage's Difference Engine

A look at the first computer

  • Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine was the first machine that could be considered a computer in the modern sense. Although Babbage designed and began construction on an engine, no engine was completed during his lifetime. Image courtesy of Computer History Museum.

  • Complicated machinery was used, and the exacting mechanical precision meant that a Difference Engine could repeat the same calculations over and over with identical results. Image courtesy of Computer History Museum.

  • This Engine uses modern materials and parts built on a production line, a far cry from the largely hand-tooled materials that Babbage’s colleagues used. Image courtesy of Computer History Museum.

  • Modern Difference Engines have been constructed — this one was made in 2005 and is shown at the Computer History Museum in California, USA. Image courtesy of Computer History Museum.

  • The Difference Engine could automatically calculate mathematical tables. Babbage's concept was used by a variety of inventors. Image courtesy of Computer History Museum.

  • Even larger and more complex machines have been created to undertake the same calculations. This Difference Engine replica was constructed in 1991 at the Science Museum in London. Image courtesy of Computer History Museum.

  • Using long strings of intricately punched cards, the machine was intended to use a program created by the talented mathematician Ada Lovelace. Unfortunately Babbage died before the Analytical Engine could be built, and the project was never completed. Image courtesy of Computer History Museum.

  • This idea continued in Babbage’s next concept, the Analytical Engine, which was intended to use punch cards to store previously calculated data and work from that — effectively creating the first calculator.

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