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Anecdotes: Babbage and the Scheutz Machine at Dudley Observatory Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129560D
Original Publication Date: 1988-Mar-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 5 page(s) / 26K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Alfred Van Sinderen: AUTHOR [+2]


New Haven, CT USA

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Copyright ©; 1988 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Anecdotes: Babbage and the Scheutz Machine at Dudley Observatory

Alfred Van Sinderen

New Haven, CT USA

Note: It is generally known that at least one difference engine made its way across the Atlantic to the New World during the 19th Century. In this anecdote, Alfred Van Sinderen, a specialist in Charles Babbage's contacts with American scientists, explains the role Babbage had in acquiring a calculating machine for the observatory in Albany, New York.

George and Edvard Scheutz, inspired by D. Lardner's description of Charles Babbage's difference engine, built their own version in the late 1840s (Babbage 1889). A sample of this machine came to England in 1854 and Babbage and his youngest son, Henry, recommended that it be exhibited in Paris in 1855. Indeed, Henry P. Babbage delivered a talk on this engine to the Institute of Civil Engineers and wrote a paper about it which was read at the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Glasgow in September 1885 (Babbage 1889, pp. 246-261). The Scheutz machine was exhibited in Paris, where it won a Gold Metal. The machine was subsequently purchased by the Dudley Observatory in Albany, New York (Morrison and Morrison, 1961). How this came about, and Babbage's involvement with the Dudley Observatory, is told here.

The Dudley Observatory was named for Charles Dudley, a businessman in Albany. He was a member of the New York State Senate and of the U.S. Senate, serving during a period when such men as Clay, Webster, and Calhoun were in their prime. He died in 1841, leaving a widow, Blandina Dudley, who remained in Albany where she was a close friend of virtually every prominent citizen of that city, especially General Stephen van Rensselaer, founder of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy (Dudley Observatory 1858). Over a decade after Blandina Dudley became a widow she decided to support the construction of an observatory. Her total contributions were $76,5000, an enormous sum for that time. It is not clear what prompted her to take this action so long after her husband's death, but Albany was quite a cultural center in that period and the American Association for the Advancement of Science met there at the time of the dedication. There were probably not more than a dozen or so observatories in this country when the Dudley Observatory was dedicated in Albany, 28 August 1956. The idea for the Dudley Observatory was conceived in 1852 by van Rensselaer and the plans for it were drawn by Professor O.M. Mitchel (1809-1862) of Cincinnati who had already built the observatory in Cincinnati (Dudley Observatory 1858).

Ormsby M. Mitchel graduated from West Point n 1829 and in 1836 was elected Professor of Mathematics and Civil Engineering in the Cincinnati College. He was one of several men of science who heeded t...