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Biographies: Joseph Clement: The First Computer Engineer Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129760D
Original Publication Date: 1992-Sep-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 8 page(s) / 103K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Michael R. Williams: AUTHOR [+2]


Department of Computer Science University of Calgary Calgary, Alberta Canada T2N 1N4

This text was extracted from a PDF file.
This is the abbreviated version, containing approximately 11% of the total text.

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Copyright ©; 1992 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Biographies: Joseph Clement: The First Computer Engineer

Michael R. Williams

Department of Computer Science University of Calgary Calgary, Alberta Canada T2N 1N4

When Charles Babbage began work on his famous Difference Engine, he was in need of a professional mechanic and draftsman. He managed to arrange for the majority of his work to be done in the workshop of Joseph Clement. This arrangement continued for a number of years. essentially during the entire time that the Difference Engine was under active construction. The arrangements between Babbage and Clement are reasonably well known) and the story of how the two of them came to part company has been part of almost every paper written about the project. However, very little information is available about Joseph Clement himself. The purpose of this article is to attempt to show that Clement was not simply a run-of-the-mill machinist who happened to be fortunate enough to work for Babbage, and was partly responsible for the failure of the construction of the Difference Engine (an impression easily obtained from reading the majority of accounts of the project). Rather Clement was a highly respected member of the mechanical engineering community when Babbage first contacted him and Babbage actually delegated a large part of the responsibility of the actual design of the Difference Engine to Clement.

In 1990, while examining some letters in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. I came across two letters*1 from Charles Babbage2,3 to a certain George Clowes. Clowes evidently was associated with a publishing venture**2 because the content of the letters was Babbage's response to having been shown some proofs of an article written by a Samuel Smiles. 'Fine article concerned the life of Babbage's chief mechanic and draftsman Joseph Clement. In the first letter (August 19, 1863) Babbage offers some corrections to the proofs and says he is too busy to do more but will pass the proofs on to Mr. Wilmot Buxton,*3 who fully comprehends the subject. In the second (August 26,1863), Babbage begins

(Image Omitted: I enclose a letter from Mr. Buxton which it may be interesting to Mr. Smiles to see. The substance of it or any extracts are at his service but I have not permission to publish the writer's name. I wish it to be returned to Dorset St.)

and then continues to give a summary of his dealings with Mr. Clement.

These letters relate to a book called Industrial Biographys written by Samuel Smiles in 1863.**4

It contains not only a chapter on the life of Joseph Clement, quite evidently the one for which

1 * These letters once belonged to Douglas Hartree, the early British computer pioneer, and were evidently given by him to the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1947. The author is not aware of how Hartree came into their possession.

2 **...