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Comments, Queries and Debate: Babbage and Bowditch Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129574D
Original Publication Date: 1988-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 2 page(s) / 15K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Alfred W. Van Sinderen: AUTHOR [+2]


Woodbridge, Connecticut, USA

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

Comments, Queries and Debate: Babbage and Bowditch

Alfred W. Van Sinderen

Woodbridge, Connecticut, USA

The article by Michael R. Williams, "Babbage and Bowditch: A Transatlantic Connection" (Annals, Vol. 9, No. 3/4, pp. 283-290), is fascinating reading. t supports a thesis I have held for a long time that Babbage was well known to American men of science, corresponded with several of them, and was visited by many others. It may be of interest to add some information, based on research I did some seven or eight years ago, about Babbage's association with Nathaniel Bowditch.

Charles Babbage first became aware of Bowditch when he was a student at Cambridge. During that time an English firm had started to print British editions of the New American Practical Navigator. An entry in Babbage's "Account Book" dated 26 April 1812 shows that Babbage purchased a copy of this book along with several other volumes from a bookseller in London. There is no indication that Babbage corresponded with Bowditch at that time.

But in 1808 Bowditch wrote a paper on observations of a meteor which had passed over New England in 1807 and exploded in Weston, Connecticut. This was published in 1815 by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received widespread recognition in England, France, and Germany. In 1816 Charles Babbage wrote to Bowditch congratulating him on the careful observations which the paper contained (Berry 1941). Bowditch also published a paper "Works of German Astronomers" in the North American Review, a copy of which was found in Babbage's library after his death. Babbage wrote to Bowditch again in 1829 congratulating him on being elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, an event in which Babbage undoubtedly played a part.

On 20 March 1830, Babbage wrote to Bowditch thanking him for the first volume of Mecanique Celeste, a presentation copy of which had been sent by the translator (Babbage 1830). "Whilst, howev...