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Babbage and Aiken With Notes on Henry Babbage's Gift to Harvard, and to Other Institutions, of a Portion of His Father's Difference Engine

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129568D
Original Publication Date: 1988-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 21 page(s) / 95K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

I. BERNARD COHEN: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

Because Howard H. Aiken expressed such admiration for the ideas of Charles Babbage, the machine he conceived -- brought into being through the engineering talents of IBM (the Mark I or ASCC) -- is often cited as an example of Babbage's dream come true. This article explores the depth and extent of Aiken's knowledge of Babbage's ideas, the stage of his own thinking when he first encountered Babbage's writings, and the way in which he found out about Babbage. Information is provided concerning the gift made by Henry P. Babbage to Harvard, and other universities, of a working model of a portion of his father's Difference Engine. An inventory is provided of the present location of such models. Categories and Subject Descriptors: K.2 [Computing Milieux]: History of Computing -- hardware, people. General Terms: Design. Additional Terms: Charles Babbage, Howard Aiken, Harvard University, Difference Engine.

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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.

Babbage and Aiken With Notes on Henry Babbage's Gift to Harvard, and to Other Institutions, of a Portion of His Father's Difference Engine

I. BERNARD COHEN

(Image Omitted: Author's Address: 5 Stella Road, Belmont, MA 02178)

Because Howard H. Aiken expressed such admiration for the ideas of Charles Babbage, the machine he conceived -- brought into being through the engineering talents of IBM (the Mark I or ASCC) -- is often cited as an example of Babbage's dream come true. This article explores the depth and extent of Aiken's knowledge of Babbage's ideas, the stage of his own thinking when he first encountered Babbage's writings, and the way in which he found out about Babbage. Information is provided concerning the gift made by Henry P. Babbage to Harvard, and other universities, of a working model of a portion of his father's Difference Engine. An inventory is provided of the present location of such models. Categories and Subject Descriptors: K.2 [Computing Milieux]: History of Computing -- hardware, people. General Terms: Design. Additional Terms: Charles Babbage, Howard Aiken, Harvard University, Difference Engine.

Part One: Babbage and Aiken

Aiken and Babbage

The Babbage computing wheels, on prominent display in the "Comp. Lab." (now the Howard Hathaway Aiken Laboratory of Computing), gave a formal announcement to every visitor of Aiken's admiration for Babbage.ll1 Set in a small glass case and flanked by copies of some of Babbage's books, these wheels were a demonstration model assembled by Babbage's son Henry to show the operating principles of the Babbage Difference Engine. This model (see Figure 1) is mounted on a wooden base, about 14 x 14 inches square, containing an engraved plate which reads: CALCULATING WHEELS, DESIGNED BY CHARLES BABBAGE 1834

Representing a portion of Babbage's Difference Engine, this "fragment" (as we shall see in Part Two below) was presented to Harvard by Major General Henry Prevost Babbage, the son of the inventor, in 1886. During the 1940s and 1950s Aiken used a slide showing these wheels as part of the illustrations for his public lectures.

1 11 "This mounted set of wheels is still on public display in the main lobby of the Aiken Laboratory. Their history and the circumstances of their coming to Harvard are described in a later section. During an oral history interview, Aiken recalled to me that he himself had been responsible for adding the identifying engraved metal plate to the wooden base. I have often referred to "Babbage computing wheels," although this is not a strictly accurate denomination. Each such set was composed of fragments of the great Difference Engine and so, strictly speaking, should be called "fragments of Babbage's Difference Engine, assembled by Babbage's son Henry." They also could be called "models,...