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Inventory no. 94229 - Former Display Label


Brass, with pins and springs of steel. (The wooden pieces are merely acting as supports for the unfinished parts.) The 'difference engine', the first great automatic calculating machine (i.e. one which will perform whole sequences of calculations unattended), was designed by the mathematician Charles Babbage (1791-1871), who began to construct it c.1822. Work continued for about twenty years, the Government contributing approximately £17,000 and Babbage himself £6,000. Construction was almost complete when, as a result of Government recalcitrance, the project was abandoned. Had the engine been finished it would have contained seven columns of wheels, with twenty wheels in each column (for computing with six orders of differences). There was also to have been a device for automatically printing (stereotyping) the tables calculated by it. In 1848 Babbage began work on the design of a new difference engine. The drawings were finished, but the new engine was never made.

A much more significant fragment of the difference engine is in the Science Museum, South Kensington

[B 148]

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