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Charles Babbage's Table of Logarithms (1827)

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129567D
Original Publication Date: 1988-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 12 page(s) / 46K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

MARTIN CAMPBELL-KELLY: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

In 1827 Charles Babbage published his Table of Logarithms of the Natural Numbers, from 1 to 108,000. His logarithms were generally considered to be the most accurate of his day and were reprinted on numerous occasions, well into the 20th century. This paper describes Babbage's motivation for producing the tables, and the measures taken to ensure their accuracy. An assessment is given of Babbage's contribution to the art of table making. Categories and Subject Descriptors: K.2 [Computing Milieux]: History of Computing -- people, software. G.4 [Mathematics of Computing]: Mathematical Software. General Terms: Theory. Additional Terms: Charles Babbage, Logarithms, Tables.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

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

Charles Babbage's Table of Logarithms (1827)

MARTIN CAMPBELL-KELLY

(Image Omitted: Author's Address. Department of Computer Science, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, U.K.)

In 1827 Charles Babbage published his Table of Logarithms of the Natural Numbers, from 1 to 108,000. His logarithms were generally considered to be the most accurate of his day and were reprinted on numerous occasions, well into the 20th century. This paper describes Babbage's motivation for producing the tables, and the measures taken to ensure their accuracy. An assessment is given of Babbage's contribution to the art of table making. Categories and Subject Descriptors: K.2 [Computing Milieux]: History of Computing -- people, software. G.4 [Mathematics of Computing]: Mathematical Software. General Terms: Theory. Additional Terms: Charles Babbage, Logarithms, Tables.

Introduction

Compared with major scientific figures of the 19th century such as Michael Faraday or Charles Darwin, Charles Babbage was until recent times a relatively obscure figure. One reason for this obscurity is that it is only since the widespread use of computers in the 1950s that Babbage has become a subject of interest to science historians. But at least as big a reason for our lack of knowledge of Babbage is that he was a Victorian polymath of such breadth that we do not yet have an integrated view of him. In recent years there have been some excellent studies of Babbage's major achievements: his mathematical work (Dubbey 1978), his contributions to political economy (Berg 1980), and of course his calculating engines (e.g., Bromley 1980).

Hyman (1982) is considered to have written the first sound biography of Babbage -- Charles Babbage: Pioneer of the Computer -- but in this task he has clearly been handicapped by the lack of an adequate secondary literature. For example, Hyman's discussion of Babbage's cryptography work occupies the space of about one page and he notes that "no adequate technical discussion of Babbage's work on cryptology has yet been given" (p. 227). This deficiency has since been amply remedied by Franksen's 319 page book Mr. Babbage's Secret: the Tale of a Cypher -- and APL published in 1984. This is perhaps indicative of the size of the task ahead for Babbage scholarship; for needed as much, if not more, than Franksen's study are detailed analyses of Babbage's works on life assurance, natural philosophy, religious philosophy, engineering and mechanical sciences, and so on. This paper, which describes the publication of Babbage's Table of Logarithms in 1827 (Figure 1), is offered in the spirit of a modest contribution to the secondary literature on Charles Babbage.

In his biography Hyman states:

(Image Omitted: After his study of life assurance the next book Babbage published was a Table of...