Charles Babbage Biography, Life, Interesting Facts

Charles Babbage was a highly brilliant and respected polymath who will always be remembered today for being the first to build a computing machine. His first project which was successful was his small machine which was meant to compute squares. Later on, this project got him some sponsorship from the British government for a Difference Engine. However, this project was not completed. He, later on, went into the creation of a more complicated project called the analytical driving force. This engine was programmed with the use of punched cards. During this time, he has Michale Faraday as his electrodynamics and Ada Lovelace as a close ally.

Charles Babbage later could decode the Vigenere’s autokey cipher. However, this was placed underground due to the Crimean War. He was in his lifetime a Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge for decades. He later wrote his operational research being the first of its kind. He also developed the Babbage Principle which in turn developed a division of labor according to the laborer’s skills. According to him, this principle is what the natural law wants and not the scriptures.


Charles Babbage was one of the four children of Benjamin Babbage and Plumleigh Babbage. His father was a banking partner in Praed’s & Co. as well as the owner of Bitton Estate in Teignmouth. He was sent to a country school at age 8 for him to recover from a particular life-threatening fever. He later joined the Edward VI Grammar School in South Devon before being transferred to Holmwood Academy.

He was under the tutelage of the Reverend Steven Freeman. Charles Babbage got inspired by his school library to study mathematics. He developed an interest in mathematics and soon become one of the best in it. He later left the Academy and was taught by two private tutors from Oxford and Cambridge. In 1810, he joined Trinity College, Cambridge. There, he formed the Ghost Club, Analytical Society, and the Extractor Club to free members of mental asylums. Charles Babbage later shifted to Peterhouse, Cambridge in 1813. There, he received a degree without examination as the best mathematician two years later. However, he had to defend his controversial thesis in a debate.


Upon his graduation from Cambridge, Charles Babbage applied for many but numerous posts of which he got minimal success for. He later lectured in astronomy at the Royal Institution where he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1812. Later on, in 1820, he helped to establish Astronomical Society after being told to improve the Almanac through the removal of errors in the tables. This single request, however, changed his career and brought out the concept of mechanical computation. He constructed a small machine which computed the tables of squares and even published his observation and computation in the Astronomical Society. This was a huge success and got approval from the Society.

Following this success, the Royal Society recommended him to the British for funding his project on the difference engine. This project, however, failed and abandoned but was later constructed to celebrate his 200th posthumous birthday. He later worked John Herschel, a mathematician as well as a Cambridge friend on Arago’s rotation and the electrodynamics surrounding the phenomenon around 1825. However, Michael Faraday broadened this work and was used by him too. He put his design out for an open submarine vessel with an adequate air for four people to last for more than two days, in 1826. He later promoted to the post of a Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge. This position, he held till in 1839. He was also voted as Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Charles Babbage tried entering Parliament twice but lost narrowly. His ambitions are to broaden the political franchise and to separate the church from state. He later published his work Reflections on the Decline of Sciences and Some of its Causes in 1830. This was what led to the formation of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Soon, his work on the Economy of Machinery and Manufacture in 1832 was said to be the earliest work on operational research. He introduced the Babbage Principle which supported division of labor based on skill.


His main work is to design a complex machine which could help with general computations. He programmed the machine with punched cards. He, however, kept redesigning and developing the engine till his death.


In 1814, Charles Babbage married Georgiana Whitmore who gave birth to four children. He, however, died of renal inadequacy at the age of 79. He was buried in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery. Many things including the Moon and a locomotive was named after him. The University of Minnesota established Charles Babbage Institute which became an information technology center.